In a sign of brewing anxiety over the potential political ramifications of a 250-mile long protest march by Turkey’s main opposition party from Ankara to Istanbul, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan likened the march to a bloody coup attempt of last year, threatened protesters with steep legal measures.
“What is the difference between you and July 15 [coup plotters]? They had their F-16s, you are walking during day and then having rest at caravans at nights,” he said.
“What is being done is not legal. It is well known what happened to the July 15 putschists,” President Erdogan said in a not-too-subtle threatening tone against the protesters who are marching to Istanbul to demand freedom to a recently imprisoned lawmaker from Republican People’s Party (CHP).
President Erdogan’s depiction of marching protesters as a new breed of putschists signals a possible intervention to stop the nationwide marches.
Erdogan Sees Seeds of Social Upheaval
Since Gezi protests in 2013, there had been no mass public protest that would prove politically threatening and alarming for Mr. Erdogan. Regarding street protests, he more or less felt secure and unassailed. But a 250-mile long protest march by thousands from Ankara to Istanbul has sent rippling echoes through the capital, with the president feeling the need to step into scotch the embers of an emerging social mobilization by the opposition.
His threatening language is a testimony to an underlying fear of another Gezi-like uprising, which could rupture Turkey’s politics and even trigger waves of social upheaval and violence.
He was simply aghast at the level of support and the scope of the march. To arrest any political fallout preemptively, Mr. Erdogan warned the marchers over legal consequences of their protest.
“Roads do not wear down by walking. If they think they can get justice with this method, it is impossible. Wandering around with ‘Justice’ banners does not bring justice,” President Erdogan said at a gathering at the Turkish Exporters’ Assembly on Saturday. “Do not be surprised if judiciary summons you,” the president said in a warning, hinting possible legal action against the marchers.
After the imprisonment of a senior lawmaker, CHP Chairman Kemal Kilicdaroglu launched a march to protest the steady erosion of socio-political space for government opponents, the purge of public workers and arrests of politicians.
The protest march, which entered it’s 3rd day on Saturday, has reinvigorated a dispirited opposition whose influence on shaping policy making in Parliament is literally nonexistent under the state of emergency. The government runs the country with decrees, which have the full force of law, enables the ruling party to evade legal and legislative oversights.
“By trampling on constitutional law, calling people to streets would bring no good,” Mr. Erdogan said, castigating the opposition party.
At a separate speech during an iftar dinner with media bosses same day, the president intensified his belligerent rhetoric. He also decried over media coverage of political affairs over the past years, excoriated media editors for spreading disinformation detrimental to the image of the country.
He expounded at great length over how media should run its business, how journalism should be practiced in Turkey. His portrayal of himself as a victim of the press runs counter to the reality given his firm stranglehold on media.
Regarding CHP-led protest, which animated a public-spirited fervor and fresh mobilization within the ranks of opposition, President Erdogan said the protest unjustly shows as if things were bad in Turkey, as if there is no freedom.
While the idea of streets-led politics met with enthusiasm among the activist base of the secular opposition, it met with trepidation and bewilderment in the government. When CHP leader, in the absence of any other viable option in a gutted political landscape, chose streets as a form of political action, the president swiftly rebuffed.
Justice must be sought at courts, he said, not on roads. Nobody is untouchable in the face of justice, the president proclaimed, dismissing uproar over the imprisonment of a lawmaker.
President’s equation of the march with a bloody coup last year came as befuddling. He shattered any doubt that the government would remain respectful until the completion of the march, signaling a possible intervention.
The president portrayed the march as illegal and said if protesters are able to walk, it is only because the government allows them to do so. In a stark reminder and warning, he said if the protesters block TEM, E-5, the main highways that connect Istanbul to Anatolia, during the march, then the situation would be slipped out of control, necessitating a government interference.
“If you say, we would occupy TEM, E-5 [highways,] then the situation turns to another July 15. We would never allow that.”
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