Cross-party 'unity' rally condemns coup in Turkey

Cross-party 'unity' rally condemns coup in Turkey
4 min read
24 July, 2016
Turkey's political party organised a mass rally on Sunday in Istanbul's iconic Taksim square to condemn the failed coup attempt against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The rally condemned the bloody coup attempt against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan [Anadolu]
Turkey's first cross-party rally took place on Sunday to condemn the bloody coup attempt against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as his government pressed on with a purge of suspected state enemies.

The mass pro-democracy event, held under tight security on Istanbul's iconic Taksim square, was called for by the biggest opposition group, the secular and centre-left Republican People's Party.

But to signal patriotic unity, it was joined by Erdogan's Islamic-conservative AKP, whose followers have turned city squares red with seas of Turkish flags every night since the failed putsch.

Prime Minister Binali Yildirim tweeted that "this country's Turks, Kurds, Alevis" and supporters of the major opposition parties "united together and gave the lesson needed to the putschists".

An AKP official earlier said the party would work to prevent any trouble with opposition supporters.

"We're trying to turn these rallies into an opportunity for national unity and a jointly celebrated democracy festival," the official stressed.

Security will be tight following a series of attacks this year claimed by Islamic State group extremists and Kurdish militants.

With crowds boosted by free public transport in the city of 15 million, the event seeks to soothe divisions after the shock of the July 15 coup and a subsequent government crackdown.

"The Turkish republic is stronger than it was in the past," wrote Yildirim in an editorial in the HaberTurk daily.

"Turkey is on democracy watch... This watch continues until the anti-democratic elements are cleaned out."

The number of alleged conspirators who have been rounded up has surged above 13,000 with soldiers, police, justice officials and civilians all targeted in a purge that has alarmed NATO allies and European leaders.

'Right-hand man'

Turkey has undergone a seismic shift since the night of violence when renegade soldiers sought to topple Erdogan but were stopped by crowds of civilians and loyalist security forces in clashes that claimed 270 lives.

In the latest reaction, Yildirim said Turkey would disband Erdogan's 2,500-strong Presidential Guard, saying there was "no need" for the elite regiment.

The rally was held in Istanbul's iconic Taksim square [Anadolu]

Almost 300 of its officers had already been detained after some guards forced TV news presenters to read statements declaring martial law during the abortive coup attempt.

Under new police powers decreed as part of a three-month state of emergency, those detained can be held without charge for 30 days.

Also targeted in the sweep was an alleged senior aide to US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen  the reclusive spiritual leader whom Turkey accuses of having orchestrated the plot to overthrow Erdogan.

Security forces detained Halis Hanci in the Black Sea province of Trabzon, a senior official said, describing him as a "right-hand man" to 75-year-old Gulen and responsible for handling finances for him.

The preacher  who lives in a secluded compound in rural Pennsylvania and whose foundation runs a global network of schools, charities and media interests  has strongly denied the accusations against him.

Police also detained Kerime Kurmas  reportedly Turkey's only female fighter pilot  accusing her of being one of the rebel air force officers who flew thundering F-16 jets low over the roofs of Istanbul on the coup night.

'Uniformed traitors'

Erdogan's government has sacked thousands of teachers, professors and civil servants and closed schools and universities as it seeks to wipe out what he calls the Gulenist "virus".

Education Minister Ismet Yilmaz said at least 20,000 teachers would be hired quickly to replace those dismissed.

European leaders have protested the mass purge, with Italy's Prime Minister Matteo Renzi warning that "a country that jails its own university professors and journalists imprisons its future".

But Turkey has argued that EU leaders simply do not understand the seriousness of the threat to Turkish democracy.

The Armed Forces Chief of General Staff, General Hulusi Akar, described the renegade soldiers as "the vile, uniformed traitors (who) damaged our country, people and our armed forces in a major way. They will face serious punishment".

Gulen's presence in the United States has strained Turkey's ties with its NATO partner which uses Turkish bases to strike Islamic State militants in Syria.

Erdogan has said Ankara will soon dispatch its justice and interior ministers to Washington, where President Barack Obama has said that any solid "evidence" would be looked at seriously under US law.

Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag on Sunday insisted that "America knows that Fethullah Gulen was behind this coup".