ISTANBUL - The leader of Turkey’s main opposition party has pledged to continue his campaign for justice in the face of government accusations of supporting terrorism.
The head of Turkey’s main opposition Republican Peoples Party, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, is leading thousands of people on a 450-kilometer justice march, from the capital, Ankara, to the country’s largest city, Istanbul.
The march is in response to a year-long crackdown following last July’s failed coup attempt. The crackdown has resulted in more than 100,000 people losing their jobs and more than 60,000 jailed.
Kilicdaroglu, who is leading a 25-day justice march from Ankara to Istanbul, told VOA the protest was triggered by the jailing of fellow parliamentary deputy and close ally Enis Berberoglu for 25 years on charges of releasing state secrets.
He says the introduction of the State of Emergency decree was a civil coup. All the negative outcomes of this civilian coup came one after the other, he said. Adding MPs (members of parliament) and journalist were arrested and academics were dismissed from their positions.
He says Berberoglu's arrest became the moment when the water over spilled the glass and his party made the decision to march.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his government have repeatedly condemned the march, saying it supports terrorism and coup plotters.
Despite the criticism, the numbers joining the march continue to grow, with around 10,000 marching with Kilicdarolgu. He expects those numbers will grow by the time the march concludes Sunday in Istanbul. But Kilicdaroglu promised the march is only the beginning and civil protest will not end.
He says the struggle will continue with all possible effort and within democracy and using all the force the party has in parliament and outside parliament.
Amid rising political tensions over the march, a heavy police presence has been deployed to protect demonstrators, particularly Kilicdarolgu.
Police say they have detained six people linked to Islamic State who were planning to carry out an attack on the march. Kilicdaroglu said he and marchers have faced threats and provocations.
The march is due to end Sunday at the prison where Berberoglu is serving his prison sentence.