By Humeyra Pamuk and Nick Tattersall
ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Hundreds of thousands of Turks gathered in Istanbul on Sunday summoned by President Tayyip Erdogan to denounce a failed coup – a show of strength staged in the face of Western criticism of widespread purges and detentions.
The “Democracy and Martyrs’ Rally” at the Yenikapi parade ground, built into the sea on the southern edge of Istanbul’s peninsula, marks the climax of three weeks of nightly demonstrations by Erdogan’s supporters, many wrapped in the red Turkish flag, in squares around the country.
Banners in the crowd read “You are a gift from god, Erdogan” or “Order us to die and we will do it”. But it was also the first time in decades that major opposition parties joined a rally in support of the government in the nation of almost 80 million.
“We’re here to show that theses flags won’t come down, the call to prayer won’t be silenced, and our country won’t be divided,” said Haci Mehmet Haliloglu, 46, a civil servant who traveled from the Black Sea town of Ordu for the rally.
“This is something way beyond politics, this is either our freedom or death,” he said, a large Turkish flag over his shoulder and a matching baseball cap on his head.
Erdogan has vowed to rid Turkey of the network of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whose followers in the security forces, judiciary and civil service he accuses of orchestrating the attempted power grab and of plotting to overthrow the state.
The cleric was an ally of Erdogan in the early years after his AK Party was elected in 2002. He has denied the charges and denounced the coup which came at a critical time for a NATO “frontline” state facing Islamist militant attacks from across the border in Syria and an insurgency by Kurdish rebels.
Tens of thousands of people have been suspended, detained or placed under investigation since the plot – including soldiers, police, judges, journalists, medics and civil servants – prompting concern among Western allies that Erdogan is using the events to tighten his grip on power. Continued…
READ MORE HERE: