Spotlight: Tensions rise as Turkish opposition march nears Istanbul

Source: Xinhua| 2017-07-03 22:10:24|Editor: Zhang Dongmiao
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by Burak Akinci

ANKARA, July 3 (Xinhua) -- Political tensions are high in Turkey as a massive protest march launched by the opposition nears its final destination, Istanbul, amid severe criticism from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu began the march on June 15 from the capital Ankara to Istanbul, with the distance of 450 km, after the jailing of CHP politician Enis Berberoglu, who was accused of leaking information on the transport of arms to Syria.

Speaking at his Justice and Development Party's provincial meeting here on Sunday, Erdogan harshly condemned the protest of "Justice March."

Erdogan accused CHP of acting with "terrorist" groups and forces that incite such groups against Turkey, mentioning among them the Kurdish rebels of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

"This situation, which anyone who in their right mind can see clearly, is part of traps set up in Syria, Iraq, the Gulf, and Europe against our country," he added.

At the beginning of the march, Erdogan hinted that Kilicdaroglu may be arrested because of his role in the protest and said that for now the state is allowing it to proceed.

Erdogan, who was granted extensive powers after a constitutional referendum last April, also accused CHP of siding with the network of Fethullah Gulen, the Muslim cleric exiled in the United States, who is believed by Ankara of being the mastermind of the failed coup in July 2016.

Since the coup, tens of thousands have been arrested or incarcerated for suspected links with the plotters in a state of emergency rule.

Kilicdaroglu, 69, intends to complete the 450 km walk from Ankara to Maltepe prison in Istanbul, where Berberoglu is being held, in 24 days.

Marching without party insignia and simply a sign with the word "Justice" in Turkish, he has been followed by thousands every day and plans to end the march on July 9 with a mass rally outside the prison located in a suburb of Istanbul.

Kilicdaroglu is being accompanied by CHP deputies and supporters, as well as family members. Ordinary citizens from all political stripes are also taking part in this unprecedented and unconventional form of protest in Turkey.

"There is a sentiment of excitement, of hope among people coming from everywhere across Turkey," said Gamze Burcu Gul, a dentist from Ankara who marched for seven consecutive days before returning to her practice.

The hot wave affecting the entire Turkey since last week had its toll on some protesters who fell ill, among them several CHP lawmakers who were treated in hospitals.

The marchers recently slogged up a mountain in the rain, and one CHP regional official died of heart attack on the way.

For the opposition press and some analysts, the march has a major symbolic meaning like the Salt March led by Mahatma Ghandi in 1930 to protest British colonial rule.

"We had the opportunity to speak with Kilicdaroglu who said that he never practiced any kind of sports nor did have any experience in marching in his entire life. Nevertheless he walks with passion and self-confidence, sometimes organizers have to slow him down because others can't pace his dynamic tempo," said Gul.

Berberoglu, a well respected journalist before being elected to parliament, was convicted of revealing state secrets by passing images to Cumhuriyet daily of Turkish intelligence trucks en route to Syria in January 2014.

He is the first CHP deputy to be imprisoned in recent years. Around a dozen legislators from the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party are currently jailed, most awaiting trial over alleged links to the PKK.

In May 2016, parliament voted to strip legislators facing trial of their parliamentary immunity.

On Monday the march was continuing in Kocaeli province, some 120 km from its final destination, according to news channels.

Like previous days, Kilicdaroglu called on supporters to remain calm in face of provocations. "We already handed leaflets to everyone taking part in the march not to use strong language against critics, we repeat that. We walk in peace," he stressed.

Several days ago, a protester dumped manure from a truck on a road near where the marchers were supposed to rest, and circles supporting Erdogan have reportedly threaten to disrupt the march in Istanbul.

CHP spokesman Bulent Tezcan said also during the weekend that his party has taken new security measures to prevent any alterations on the way, warning that "provocations have been accelerating."

"We will not be discouraged; we will go to the end. When the march will end, Turkey will not change surely from dusk to dawn but the spirit that this protest is creating will lead to way to a new momentum for better things to come," said to Xinhua CHP lawmaker Utku Cakirozer.