Six arrested over mob attack on Turkish opposition leader at soldier's funeral

Six arrested over mob attack on Turkish opposition leader at soldier's funeral
Turkish police on Monday arrested six people over an attack on CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu at a soldier's funeral on Sunday.
4 min read
22 April, 2019
Opposition supporters accused the government and allied media of stoking the attack [Anadolu]

Six people, including a member of Turkey's ruling party, were arrested on Monday following a mob attack on opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu, local media reported.

Kilicdaroglu, the 70-year-old leader of Turkey's largest opposition party, was attacked on Sunday by a mob as he attended the funeral in Ankara of a soldier killed fighting Kurdish militants in the southeast.

The attack came just days after Kilicdaroglu's party, the Republican People's Party (CHP), was officially crowned the winner in a highly contested mayoral election in Istanbul, cementing the party's control over Turkey's three largest cities.

A video of Sunday's attack went viral, sparking outrage on social media and causing the hashtag #KilicdarogluYalnizDegildir ("Kilicdaroglu is not alone") to become a trending topic.

Kilicdaroglu had attended the funeral to pay his respect for a soldier killed by PKK fighters near the Iraq border. It is common for Turkish politicians to attend the public funerals of soldiers, which are termed "martyrs' funerals".

Attendees unhappy with his presence began to protest, shouting "PKK out" and "God damn you".

Pro-AKP media has sometimes labeled Kilicdaroglu's party "CHPKK" on unsubstantiated claims that the CHP has supported the Kurdish militant group.

During campaigning for the 31 March local elections, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan often accused Kilicdaroglu and the CHP of backing the PKK, which is considered a terrorist group by Turkey.

After members of the crowd began to push and shove the veteran politician, some attempting to land blows, security officers escorted Kilicdaroglu to a nearby house for safety reasons.

Stones were then thrown at the house, although Kilicdaroglu was later escorted out of the area unharmed.

The chief suspect was arrested in a central Anatolian town around 150km from the capital Ankara, NTV reported.

He was later identified as Osman Sarigun, a member of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) who would face face a disciplinary hearing for expulsion from the party following the arrest.

"AKP is against any form of violence. Our principles certainly reject violence. There is no room for violence in democratic politics," AKP spokesman Omer Celik said on Twitter.

Five other detainees were arrested in Ankara, state news agency Anadolu reported.

Kilicdaroglu later said the attack targeted Turkey's unity in a speech outside the CHP headquarters.

"The assailants have no respect for the martyr," he said, accusing them of not being "genuine Muslims".

Kilicdaroglu, who was also attacked at a funeral in 2016, added: "They don't want me to go to our martyrs' funerals. They think I will step back if they attack me. I will not even take one step back."

While Erdogan has yet to comment on the attack, former president and AKP politician Abdullah Gul condemned the attack.

"I hope the danger of hate speech, which prevails in the language of politics, is finally realised," Gul tweeted.

Opposition voices have accused the government-aligned media of stoking the attack.

Pro-AKP newspaper Gunes attacked the new mayor of Istanbul, CHP politician Ekrem Imamoglu, linking him to the PKK attack which killed the soldier whose funeral Kilicdaroglu was attending.

"Four martyrs and six wounded," read Sunday's front-page splash. "Are you happy, Ekrem?"

Addressing an Istanbul crowd on Sunday, the new mayor responded to the attack: "Those who carried out the attack are not our citizens, those who did this acted upon orders."

The CHP has since held both Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu, who last year said he had ordered governors not to allow CHP members to attend soldiers' funerals, and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), which is allied with the AKP, responsible.

CHP deputy chairman Yildirim Kaya on Monday accused the Grey Wolves, an ultranationalist connected to the MHP, of orchestrating the attack, local media reported.