ISTANBUL (AP) — Tens of thousands of supporters of Turkey’s main opposition group, joined by some ruling party members, rallied Sunday in Istanbul to denounce a July 15 coup attempt, a rare show of unity that belies opposition unease over President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s crackdown since the failed uprising.
The flag-waving demonstrators in the city’s Taksim square reflected widespread rejection of the coup attempt in a NATO country that has endured several coups in past decades. Even so, these are tense times in Turkey, which has declared a three-month state of emergency and detained more than 13,000 people in the military, judiciary and other institutions.
Steel barriers were erected around the square to protect the marchers, who entered through security checkpoints. In addition to the violence during the insurrection, Turkey has been hit by deadly bombings and other attacks blamed on the Islamic State group and Kurdish rebels.
The rally was organized by the opposition Republican People’s Party, which was close to secularist generals who used to control the military. The party has lost clout since Erdogan came to power more than a decade ago with votes from a pious Muslim class that was sidelined under Turkey’s past secular rulers.
“The coup attempt was done against our democratic, secular, social state, governed by rule of law,” Kemal Kilicdaroglu, head of the Republican People’s Party, said in a speech.
Kilicdaroglu did not directly criticize Erdogan, though he stressed the importance of a free press and freedom of assembly and the dangers of dictatorship and authoritarianism. The remarks partly echoed his recent criticism that Turkey’s state of emergency jeopardizes democracy by granting extra powers to Erdogan.
Despite Turkey’s deep political divisions, Istanbul’s mayor and other leaders of the ruling Justice and Development Party joined the opposition demonstrators to denounce military intervention in politics.
Posters at the rally proclaimed “No to coups” and “We’re standing up for the republic and democracy.”
More than 13,000 people, including nearly 9,000 soldiers, 2,100 judges and prosecutors and 1,485 police, have been detained in Turkey’s post-rebellion crackdown, according to the president. In addition, some 50,000 workers have lost their jobs, suspected of possible ties to the coup plotters.
Erdogan said the government has also closed and seized the assets of 15 universities, 934 other schools, 109 student dormitories, 19 unions, 35 medical institutions as well as over 1,100 other associations and foundations.
All those institutions are suspected of links to Fethullah Gulen, a U.S.-based cleric accused by Turkey of directing the insurrection that left about 290 people dead and was put down by loyalist forces and pro-government protesters. Gulen denies any prior knowledge of the plot.
Turkey also said it plans to hire more than 20,000 teachers to replace those who have been fired in a purge of suspected coup plotters. And it has disbanded the presidential guard after already detaining nearly 300 members suspected of plotting against Erdogan, and detained Muhammet Sait Gulen, a nephew of the cleric who lives in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania.
Turkey wants the United States to extradite Gulen. President Barack Obama says the U.S. has an extradition process and has encouraged Turkey to present any evidence it has.
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