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Tens of thousands mass for Turkish opposition's 'justice' rally

The biggest protest in years against President Erdogan ended in Istanbul [Getty]

Date of publication: 9 July, 2017

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Ordinary citizens joined high profile politicians and cultural figures in a "justice" march from Ankara to Istanbul - the biggest protest even in years by critics of President Erdogan

Tens of thousands of people massed on Sunday for a rally of Turkey's main opposition party in Istanbul, the biggest protest event in several years by critics of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

A sea of people filled the vast seashore square in Maltepe on the Asian side of Istanbul for the rally marking the end of a 450 kilometre "justice march" from Ankara to Istanbul by Republican People's Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu.

Kilicdaroglu launched the march after a parliamentarian from his party was imprisoned in June. The march grew into a protest over the massive crackdown on people with alleged links to terror groups that began after a coup attempt last summer.

"If only there was no need for this march and there was democracy, media freedoms, if civic society groups could freely express their opinions," Kilicdaroglu told The Associated Press.

Tens of thousands of people have joined Kilicdaroglu throughout his march in scorching heat, chanting "rights, law, justice." Hundreds of thousands of people greeted Kilicdaroglu while waving Turkish flags and flags emblazoned with the word "justice."

Organisers said the weekslong event expressed "a collective, nonpartisan desire for an independent and fair judicial system" that they claim is lacking in Turkey. No party flags or slogans were allowed on the march.

The government has accused Kilicdaroglu of supporting terrorist groups through his protest. Erdogan has said he is violating the law by attempting to influence the judiciary.

Turkey's definition of supporting terror is so broad that it has caused an impasse in the country's bid for European Union membership.

Parliament member Enis Berberoglu was sentenced last month to 25 years in prison for revealing state secrets for allegedly leaking footage to an opposition newspaper suggesting that Turkey's intelligence service had smuggled weapons to Islamist rebels in Syria.

In a New York Times op-ed Friday, Kilicdaroglu called the case against Berberoglu "the last straw in a series of antidemocratic moves" by Erdogan's government "targeting tens of thousands of Turkish citizens - politicians, journalists, academics, activists or ordinary citizens".

Following last year's failed coup, the government imposed a state of emergency leading to the arrest of more than 50,000 people and the dismissal of some 100,000 civil servants. A dozen lawmakers from the pro-Kurdish opposition party have also been jailed.

Ordinary citizens, sacked public employees and high-profile figures have joined Kilicdaroglu on his march. Novelist Asli Erdogan and leading Kurdish politician Ahmet Turk, both released from jail pending trial on various terror-related charges, as well as Yonca Sik, the wife of a prominent journalist currently in prison, were just a few.

Istanbul governor Vasip Sahin said 15,000 police officers were providing security at the post-march rally.

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