Istanbul, May 21 (EFE).- Tens of thousands of people gathered here Saturday for a protest organized by Turkey’s main opposition CHP party against what it calls the growing authoritarianism of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in power since 2003.
The demonstration follows an appeals court decision upholding the prison sentence of the chair of the Istanbul branch of the center-left CHP, Canan Kaftancioglu, for statements she made on social media during a wave of anti-government protests in 2013.
Initially planned for the city of Bursa as part of a series of events highlighting the “autocracy” of Erdogan and his Islamist AKP party, Saturday’s mobilization was shifted to Istanbul after the court ordered that Kaftancioglu be jailed for four years and 11 months.
Though the court cut the original sentence by more than half and Kaftancioglu is likely to receive probation, the judges took the additional step of barring her from politics with a presidential election set for 2023.
“Let no one despair, the rule of the bandits is ending,” CHP leader Kemal Kiliçdaroglu, expected to challenge Erdogan next year, said in his address to the crowd in Istanbul’s Maltepe district.
While CHP deputy leader Seyit Torun told Efe that the demonstration was a sign the end is approaching for Erdogan’s government.
“It’s a protest not only against the injustice toward Kaftancioglu. There are others incarcerated for political reasons,” Torun said. “This gathering marks the start of our march toward a democratic republic that ends the one-person government of Erdogan.”
Sources in the CHP said that police estimated the number of participants in Saturday’s protest at 400,000, but authorities offered no public comment.
The appellate court threw out charges that Kaftancioglu engaged in propaganda on behalf of the PKK Kurdish guerrillas and “incited hatred.”
But the judges found her guilty of “publicly insulting the State of the Republic of Turkey” and of “insulting the president. EFE dt-as/dr