Turkey witnessed a historical first yesterday as citizens held a separate rally to celebrate the 89th anniversary of the foundation of the Turkish Republic while state officials attended formal ceremonies and a parade at Ankaras Hippodrome. Over 50,000 people gathered in the capital for an alternative celebration for Republic Day, but faced harsh police action, marking another first in Turkeys history.
Police used pepper gas and water cannons to disperse the crowd that gathered in Ulus Square in front of the old Parliament house. Crowds later sidestepped the police and over 50,000 people were able to march towards Anıtkabir, the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish Republic, after the police barricade was lifted.
Several people, including journalists, main opposition Republican Peoples Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu and his lawmakers were hit by pepper spray at Ankaras Ulus Square. Kılıçdaroğlu rebuffed the polices disproportionate use of force against citizens that had gathered to celebrate the 89th anniversary of the foundation of the Turkish Republic.
These people had only Turkish flags in their hands, but the state had police and pepper gas. Why? Are we waging war? What can be as natural as celebrating Republic Day? Our ancestors constructed the Republic with blood and tears, he said yesterday before departing to Istanbul.
Kılıçdaroğlu critiziced the government for the incidents in Ankara, recalling that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğans had earlier made statements claiming people were disconnected from national holidays days. Wasnt he saying celebration wont be done in stadiums? There is no need to get permission to celebrate a holiday, Kılıçdaroğlu said.
Police can use force
The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), however, continued their criticisms against the CHP and the organizers of the banned rally.
The police can use force if they are obliged to. But if they used force unnecessarily, then the main opposition can investigate it, MHPs leader Bahçeli told reporters. We are living in a democratic country, he said.
AKP deputy chair Hüseyin Çelik accused the main opposition for following in the footsteps of marginal groups. The party of Atatürk has become the wagon of marginal groups. They are the locomotive and the CHP is their wagon, Çelik said in televised remarks broadcast on private TV channel Kanal 24.
Turkey is transforming into a democratic republic from a bureaucratic republic. Those who dont want to give up their bureaucratic republican habits and those who cannot accept the transformation into a democratic republic are raising their voice, Çelik said.
NGOs led by the Kemalist Thought Association (ADD) and the Turkey Youth Union (TGB) had called on people to gather in front of the old Parliament building in Ankaras Ulus Square to mark the 89th anniversary of the foundation of the Turkish republic, but the Ankara governors office last week denied permission for the rally, arguing that they received intelligence that some provocative actions may occur during the meeting.
The Governors Office also banned the planed march towards Anıtkabir, which is located about two kilometers away from the venue.
Meanwhile, Interior Minister İdris Naim Şahin inspected the rally area from a police helicopter.
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