Izmir turns red and white
IZMIR TDN with agencies
Hundreds of thousands of pro-secular Turks gathered in the third largest city of Turkey Sunday to protest against the Islamist-rooted government that they fear is working to raise the influence of religion on society and pressure the secularist center-left parties unite ahead of parliamentary elections set for July 22.
Organizers of the pro-secular rally estimated the participating crowd at around two million.
This was the first ever rally which was staged simultaneously both on land and sea as scores of small ferry boats and fishermen boats packed with demonstrators joined the rally from the sea.
Izmir is a port city on the Aegean coast that is a bastion of secularism, and Islamic parties fare poorly there. According to eyewitness accounts the demonstration was the biggest ever held in the port city of Izmir since the 1977 campaign rally in the city by late Bülent Ecevit, who was then heading the Republican People's Party (CHP). The CHP had won the 1977 parliamentary elections with a 43 percent landslide.
There was intense security throughout the third largest city of Turkey Sunday. Police deployed thousands of officers and all demonstrators were subjected to comprehensive security check before being allowed into the rally grounds.
On Saturday a bomb at an Izmir market killed one person and injured 14 others. There was no claim of responsibility for the attack, nor evidence that it was linked to the demonstration.
The rally follows similar demonstrations by hundreds of thousands in Ankara and Istanbul last month. The rallies were staged to pressure Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's government, which nominated a presidential candidate deemed to be Islamist. The candidate, Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül, was forced to suspend his bid after the opposition boycotted the voting process in Parliament.
The success of the secularist opposition in derailing Erdoğan's plans to have his close ally, Gul, elected president has given opposition parties new confidence, analysts say.
"These rallies have been useful in forcing the government to take a step back," said protester Neslihan Erkan. "The danger is still not over."
Streets and buildings in Turkey's third largest city, including army barracks, were covered in a sea of red Turkish flags and portraits of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey.
"Turkey is secular and will remain secular," protesters chanted. "No to sharia (Islamic law)."
Turkey's main opposition centre-left CHP and the smaller Democratic Left Party (DSP) -- which are in talks to form an alliance -- hope to use the rally to build momentum ahead of the July 22 election.
Opinion polls show the centre-right AK Party is likely to win most votes in July but it may fail to win an outright majority, forcing it to form a coalition government.