As It Happens

'The spirit of hope': Why tens of thousands are marching across Turkey

The march for justice, started more than three weeks ago, is growing stronger every day, says Turkish opposition MP Selin Sayek-Boke.
Supporters of Turkey's main opposition Republican People's Party Leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu walk during the 23rd day of a protest, dubbed 'The march for justice.' (Osman Orsal/Reuters)

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Selin Sayek-Boke says the "march for justice" in Turkey is growing stronger every day.

"The mood is wonderful. By the day, we're growing in numbers, but also, I think, in the spirit of hope and a brighter future," the Turkish opposition MP told As It Happens guest host Laura Lynch from Istanbul. 

"I keep on saying, every step one takes creates a tenfold effect among the larger public and we are observing that courage is, indeed, contagious."

Republican People's Party leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu is leading the 426-kilometre trek from the capital of Ankara to Istanbul to protest President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's policies. Tens of thousands are marching alongside him.

The march, in its 23rd day on Friday, originally was planned to denounce the imprisonment of opposition MP Enis Berberoglu, who was sentenced to 25 years in prison for revealing state secrets — for allegedly leaking information to an opposition newspaper.

But it has since grown into a wider protest against Erdogan's crackdown on dissidents, which has seen thousands of journalists, academics, public servants and Kurdish politicians fired or jailed.

Protesters carry a giant Turkish flag on the 19th day of the march from Ankara to Istanbul. (Umit Bektas/Reuters)

More than 47,000 people have been arrested since the coup, according to the government, including some Canadian citizens. More than 100,000 people have been purged from government jobs.

"Anybody who has opposed the ruling party in any way has been silenced, has been jailed, and their future has been taken from their hands," Sayek-Boke said.

"We no longer have the luxury of acting as if Turkey has a normal political scene, so we have to open up new political channels. We have to open up channels where the society is able to include itself into the political arena and this is one such attempt."

The government says the crackdown is necessary due to the gravity of the July 2016 coup attempt, in which state buildings were attacked with helicopters and tanks and more than 240 people died.

It says the threat posed by a network of followers of U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen — whom Turkey accuses of masterminding the coup — is not yet over. Gulen has denied involvement.

The government has also accused Kilicdaroglu of supporting terrorist groups through his protest action.

Republican People's Party Leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu greets his supporters as he walks during the 22nd day of the march for justice. (Osman Orsal/Reuters)

Still, Erdogan has not attempted to halt the march and Turkish police have provided protection to the protesters.

"In democracies, nobody allows people to do this. This is the right of the public. It's not in a president's hand to allow or not allow a democratic right to be used," Sayek-Boke said. 

"Indeed, this has been a march that has been supporting democracy in itself and we are happy that the march has gone as we had planned for it."

Erdogan has warned that there will be consequences if the protests continue beyond the planned end on Sunday in Istanbul. 

But Sayek-Boke said the march for justice is just the beginning of what she calls "a true grassroots democratic movement.

"This rally will end on Sunday. This walk will end on Sunday. But this walk was only a first step for a new politics in Turkey and that will definitely continue into the future," she said.

What began as a protest against the detention of lawmaker Enis Berberoglu has become a demonstration against the Turkish government's post-coup attempt crackdown. (Umit Bektas/Reuters)

With files from Associated Press


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