Turkey leader Erdogan stages rally in show of strength

  • 08/08/2016
People wave Turkey's national flags during the Democracy and Martyrs Rally in Istanbul (Reuters)
People wave Turkey's national flags during the Democracy and Martyrs Rally in Istanbul (Reuters)

More than a million Turks have joined an Istanbul rally called by President Tayyip Erdogan to denounce a failed coup.

It's an attempted show of strength, staged in the face of Western criticism of widespread purges and detentions.

Amid the cooling of ties with the West, Mr Erdogan is due to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday in St Petersburg for talks intended to end a period of tension after Turkey downed a Russian fighter jet near the Syrian border last November.

"At the talks with my friend Vladimir, I believe, a new page in bilateral relations will be opened. Our countries have a lot to do together," Mr Erdogan told the TASS news agency in an interview published on Sunday.

The "Democracy and Martyrs' Rally" on Sunday in Istanbul, marks the climax of three weeks of nightly demonstrations by Mr Erdogan's supporters.

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 that major opposition parties joined a rally in support of the government in the nation of almost 80 million.

The parade ground, built to hold at least a million people, was overflowing, with access roads clogged by crowds.

Mr Erdogan has vowed to rid Turkey of the network of US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whose followers he accuses of orchestrating the attempted power grab and of plotting to overthrow the state.

Mr Gulen - a former ally of Mr Erdogan - 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.

Since the coup, Turkish authorities have suspended, detained or investigated tens of thousands of people, including soldiers, police, judges, journalists, medics and civil servants, prompting concern among Western allies that Mr Erdogan is using the events to tighten his grip on power.

Mr Erdogan, seen by opponents as intolerant of dissent, has invited the heads of the secularist and nationalist main opposition parties to address the crowds.

But the pro-Kurdish HDP, the third-largest party in parliament, was not invited.

The brutality of July 15, in which more than 230 people were killed as rogue soldiers commandeered fighter jets, helicopters and tanks, shocked a nation that last saw a violent military power grab in 1980.

Even Mr Erdogan's opponents saw his continued leadership as preferable to a successful coup renewing the cycle of military interventions that dogged Turkey in the second half of the 20th century.

But in comments published on Sunday, the leader of Germany's liberal Free Democrats said he saw parallels between Mr Erdogan's behaviour and the aftermath of the Reichstag fire in 1933, portrayed by the Nazis as a Communist plot against the government and used by Adolf Hitler to justify massively curtailing civil liberties.