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Turkey’s ‘Justice March: Opposition leader launches court challenge as he marches to Istanbul

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 Kemal Kilicdaroglu (third from left) : a single word, “Adalat” –  “justice”.

Turkey’s opposition leader launches court challenge as he marches to Istanbul

By Daren Butler | ISTANBUL Reuters.

Turkey’s main opposition leader launched a European court appeal on Tuesday over an April vote that granted President Tayyip Erdogan sweeping powers, stepping up his challenge to the government as he led a 425 km (265 mile) protest march.

Erdogan accuses the protesters, marching from Ankara to Istanbul, of “acting together with terrorist groups”, referring to Kurdish militants and followers of a U.S.-based cleric who Ankara says was behind last year’s coup.

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, head of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), hit back on Tuesday, defending his “justice march” and accusing the government of creating a one-party state in the wake of the failed putsch on July 15.

On the 20th day of his march, triggered by the jailing of a CHP deputy on spying charges, Kilicdaroglu signed an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights against the election board’s decision to accept unstamped ballots in the April 16 referendum.

“Turkey has rapidly turned into a (one-)party state. Pretty much all state institutions have become branches of a political party,” he told reporters. “This is causing profound harm to our democratic, parliamentary system.”

Kilicdaroglu, 68, wearing a white shirt and a baseball cap with the word ‘justice’ printed on it, then set out on the latest leg of the march from the city of Izmit, around 100 km (60 miles) along the coast to the east of central Istanbul.

The protest has gained momentum as it passes through northwest Turkey’s countryside and representatives of the pro-Kurdish HDP, parliament’s third largest party, joined the march on Monday near the jail of its former co-leader Figen Yuksekdag.

There are deep divisions among opposition parties but Yuksekdag, stripped of her parliamentary status in February, issued a statement from her cell on Monday calling for them to put those differences aside.

“We must set up the shattered scales of justice again and fight for this together,” she wrote, saying justice had hit “rock bottom” with the jailing of 11 HDP lawmakers and around 100 mayors.

The party rejects charges of ties to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militant group, designated a terrorist group by Ankara and its Western allies, which launched an insurgency in 1984 in which more than 40,000 people have been killed.

As the protesters advance, Erdogan has stepped up his attacks on the march, saying the CHP was longer acting as a political opposition.

“We can see that they have reached the point of acting together with terror groups and those powers which provoke them against our country,” he said in a speech to officials from his ruling AK Party on Saturday.

“The path which you are taking is the one of Qandil, the one of Pennsylvania,” he said, referring to the northern Iraqi mountains where the PKK is based and the U.S. state where Erdogan’s ally-turned-foe Fethullah Gulen lives.

Kilicdaroglu launched his march in Ankara on June 15 after Enis Berberoglu was jailed for 25 years for espionage, becoming the first lawmaker from the party imprisoned in a government crackdown in the wake of the attempted coup.

Since the purge began, more than 50,000 people have been jailed pending trial, 150,000 have been suspended or dismissed from their jobs. Ankara has also shut down 130 media outlets and some 160 journalists are in prison, according to union data.

In April a referendum was held on constitutional changes that sharply widened Erdogan’s presidential authority and the proposals won 51.4 percent approval in a vote, which has triggered opposition challenges including the latest CHP move.

Opposition parties have said the poll was deeply flawed and European election observers said the decision to allow unstamped ballot papers to be counted had removed a main safeguard against voting fraud.

(Additional reporting by Gulsen Solaker; Writing by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Daren Butler; Editing by David Dolan and Richard Balmforth)

Background: (Al Monitor)

Turkey’s main opposition changes focus from ‘secularism’ to ‘justice’

As I was writing these lines, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), was marching on the highway somewhere near Hendek, a town 200 kilometers (124 miles) east of Istanbul. He had been on the road for two weeks, walking some 15-20 kilometers (9-12 miles) a day and resting at a hotel or in a bus at night. He had at least 10 more days to go. And neither him, nor the thousands of people who joined him for this remarkable march, held any party flag or partisan slogan. They marched only with one simple motto: Justice.

This is the “Justice March” Kilicdaroglu began June 15 in reaction to a court decision that sentenced one of the CHP’s deputies, Enis Berberoglu, to 25 years in prison. Berberoglu’s alleged crime was to help publish the photos of weapons that Turkish intelligence trucks were shipping into Syria back in 2014. This, in the eyes of the court, made him a criminal who “exposed state secrets” and carried out “espionage.” In the free world, however, people would probably just say he did something called “journalism.”

The Berberoglu sentence was in fact only the last straw. Since the July 15 failed coup, Turkey has been going through one of its darkest eras in which “justice” has become desperately lacking. The coup attempt, for sure, was a bloody episode that required a rigorous prosecution and a state of emergency. But after a few weeks of “national unity,” the government began to use the state of emergency as a tool to crack down on all opposition voices in every walk of life, from politics to journalism to academia. More than 50,000 people found themselves in jail, and another 140,000 people have been fired from their jobs. These arrests and purges were often based on nothing but suspicion, and someone’s political stance against the government was often seen as enough evidence of “treason.” Prosecutors and judges themselves faced the pressure of arresting more and more people to prove their loyalty to the system.

France 24 comments,

Given the unprecedented display of opposition from the CHP, all eyes in the next few days will be on Erdogan’s response to the Justice March.

His options range from letting the march end in Istanbul in a peaceful protest, blocking access to the final demonstration, allowing pro-AK party thugs to descend on the protesters or ordering a security crackdown. Coming as it will, just days before the July 15 2016 coup anniversary, these are options Erdogan will have to carefully weigh. “The Justice March is going to leave Erdogan with some unsavoury possibilities,” noted Eissenstat. “It forces him to either allow the opposition to oppose him on the streets or forces him to use force. But if it comes to seeing Kemal Kilicdaroglu in shackles that would be politically explosive. None of the options work out well for him.”

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Written by Andrew Coates

July 4, 2017 at 12:12 pm

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