The leader of Turkey’s main opposition party Sunday drew hundreds of thousands of supporters to an Istanbul rally during which he called for the government to free jailed politicians, teachers and others and end a state of emergency.
The rally came as Republican People’s Party leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu completed a 25-day, more than 250-mile march from Ankara, the capital, to Istanbul called the “March for Justice.”
Many in the crowd carried signs reading “adalet,” justice.
“Hak, hukuk, adalet,” supporters chanted. Rights, law, justice.
Kilicdaroglu told the crowd that President Recip Tayyip Erdogan has steered Turkey away from democracy and toward autocratic, one-man rule.
Kilicdaroglu said Erdogan’s response to an attempted coup last July was to stage a palace coup by declaring a state of emergency, in effect suspending the powers of the national parliament and the judiciary.
Kilicdaroglu’s demands included an end to the state of emergency, the restoration of an independent judiciary and the release from custody of journalists, politicians and others considered threats to the government. Tens of thousands of people have been arrested during the state of emergency.
“Subjecting the judiciary to partisan politics is a betrayal of democracy,” he said, as he called on judges to “stand upright, stand with your honor, listen to your inner conscience and decide accordingly.
“We demand justice. We demand justice not only for those who are gathered here, not only for those who support us, but for everyone,” he said. “Justice is a right. Justice is our right. We just want our right.”
He denounced as illegitimate a referendum in April that will eliminate the post of prime minister and give the president the power to name his government, without requiring approval from the parliament, and expand his control over the judiciary.
The changes, set to take effect in 2019, would allow Erdogan to run for two additional five-year terms, and possibly a third.
The constitutional referendum was carried out under the state of emergency, “where all public resources were exploited to manipulate the outcome,”Kilicdaroglu said.
“This was an … unlawful referendum. Turkey cannot and must not be governed with an illegal constitution,” he said.
Erdogan had no immediate comment about the rally, but had previously compared Kilicdaroglu’s march to the coup attempt last year.
"What is the difference between you and the ones” involved in the attempted coup? he asked. “They were holding F-16s, tanks and you are walking.”
He also sought to ridicule Kilicdaroglu for taking to the street. “If they think that this is the way they can reach justice, it is not possible,” Erdogan said. “Walking around with justice banners cannot bring justice. Don’t be surprised if justice visits you tomorrow.”
The government provided security for Kilicdaroglu on his march, and thousands of police were protecting the site of the rally, on the parade grounds in Maltepe.
“There is no justice,” Muhammer Dogan, who joined the rally, told the Associated Press. “Innocent people are being imprisoned. They are being victimized.”
Gutman is a special correspondent.
5:45 p.m.: This article was updated throughout with Times reporting.
This article was originally published at 12:15 p.m.