Sunday, May 13, 2007

1 Million Turks: "No To Sharia"

Paul De Bendern, The Australian: At least 1 million Turks took to the streets of Izmir today to demand their country remain a secular state, stepping up pressure on the Islamist-rooted government before July elections.

Organisers hoped the fourth major anti-government protest in a month would unite the Opposition ahead of the poll. People flocked to Izmir from across Turkey, undeterred by a bombing in the port city that killed one man and injured 14 yesterday. It was not clear who was behind the market attack. Streets and buildings in Turkey's third largest city, including army barracks, were covered in a sea of red Turkish flags and portraits of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the revered founder of modern Turkey.

“Turkey is secular and will remain secular,” the protesters, predominantly middle class youths at this festive rally, chanted. “No to sharia (Islamic law).” Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's reformist AK Party Government has been forced to call a parliamentary election months ahead of schedule to defuse a deep conflict with Turkey's secularists over a presidential vote.
Turkey's secular elite, including opposition parties, top judges and army generals, successfully blocked Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul's election. They feared the ex-Islamist might try to undermine Turkey's separation of state and religion, a claim Gul and his AK Party strongly deny.

“The AK Party will most likely win the elections but they will have to take into account these demonstrations and what people are saying. They can't remain arrogant any more,” said Haluk Berk, a doctor who also teaches at an Izmir university. “The silent majority is finally coming out,” he said, standing alongside his son. Turkey's main opposition centre-left Republican People's Party (CHP) and the smaller leftist Democratic Left Party (DSP) - which are in talks to form an alliance - hope to use the rally to build momentum ahead of the July 22 election.
Police told Reuters at least 1 million people attended the seaside rally, with no major incidents reported. Organisers, mainly left wing groups, had hoped to attract 2 million people. The protest began to wind down by late afternoon.

The success in derailing the AK Party's plans to have Gul elected president has given opposition parties new confidence, analysts say, but added that they were racing against time to come up with a credible election manifesto. The political crisis has brought about mergers between opposition parties in the hope that in July they can win more than the 10 per cent of votes needed to enter Parliament.


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