More than 1 million Turks have gathered in Istanbul for a rally called by President Tayyip Erdogan to denounce a failed coup — a show of strength staged in the face of Western criticism of widespread purges and detentions.
The “Democracy and Martyrs’ Rally” at the Yenikapi parade ground, built into the sea on the southern edge of Istanbul’s peninsula, marks the climax of three weeks of nightly demonstrations by Mr Erdogan’s supporters, many wrapped in the red Turkish flag, in squares around the country.
“Let all of you know, the leader of this terrorist group will come to Turkey and pay for what he did,” Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim told the rally, referring to US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen.
But he said the authorities would not be motivated by revenge and would act within the rule of law as they track down those responsible for the July 15 attempted putsch.The head of Turkey’s armed forces Hulusi Akar also told the crowd “traitors” behind an attempted coup would be punished in the harshest way.
Banners read “You are a gift from God, Erdogan” or “Order us to die and we will do it”.But it was also the first time in decades major opposition parties joined a rally in support of the Government in the country of almost 80 million.”This is something way beyond politics, this is either our freedom or death,” he said, a large Turkish flag over his shoulder and a matching baseball cap on his head.
The parade ground, built to hold at least a million people, was overflowing, with access roads clogged by crowds.The events were broadcast live on public screens at demonstrations across Turkey’s 81 provinces.Mr Erdogan has vowed to rid Turkey of the network of Mr Gulen, whose followers in the security forces, judiciary and civil service he accuses of orchestrating the attempted power grab and of plotting to overthrow the state.
Mr Gulen — an ally of Mr Erdogan in the early years after his Islamist-rooted AK Party took power in 2002 — denies the charges and has denounced the coup, which came at a critical time for a NATO “frontline” state facing Islamist militant attacks from across the border in Syria and an insurgency by Kurdish rebels.