A “March for Justice” in Turkey swelled to a million participants in the final miles of a 25-day trek embarked upon by Turkey’s opposition leader.
The march from Ankara to Istanbul was billed as a non-partisan, peaceful protest against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s seizing of sweeping powers since last summer’s failed coup, particularly in the judicial system.
Massive arrests followed the coup attempt, which organizers decry as unjust. Tens of thousands of citizens – including journalists, judges, soldiers, professors and civil servants who were rounded up and arrested — remain languishing in Turkish prisons, ostensibly awaiting trial.
The leader of Turkey’s opposition, Republican People’s Party head Kemal Kilicdaroglu, led the 280-mile march and presented a 10-point list of demands which included the release of journalists, parliamentarians and army privates and the restoration of civil servants to their jobs.
In addition, Kilicdaroglu demanded the constitutional changes that have taken place since last April’s referendum giving Erdogan overreaching powers be cancelled and an independent judiciary be restored in Turkey.
“Nobody should think this march has ended; this march is a beginning,” Kilicdaroglu said to the crowd. “This is a rebirth for us, for our country and our children. We will revolt against injustice … Justice is a right, we want our right back. We millions here demand a new social contract.”
The march, billed with the single word adalet, justice, was the first massive rally against Erdogan since last July’s coup attempt. The government allowed the protest to take place and did not invoke the country’s current state of emergency status as a pretext to prohibit it.
Thousands of police officers escorted the marchers but kept their distance.
Kilicdaroglu told Reuters the rally helped the people “cast off a shirt of fear” in place since the vast post-coup arrests.
Perhaps the final straw for Kilicdaroglu was arrest of his deputy leader Enis Berberoglu, a journalist, who was sentenced in June to 25 years in prison. Berberoglu is accused of leaking documents to the media connecting the Turkish government to the arming of jihadis in Syria.