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Thousands Turn Out For March For Justice In Turkey


In Turkey, thousands of people unhappy with the government of President Receb Tayyip Erdogan have hit the road, some 250 miles of road from the capital Ankara to Istanbul. It's called the March For Justice, and NPR's Peter Kenyon met up with some of the marchers yesterday.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: The weather ranged from threatening to downpours, but the marchers kept coming, following a 68-year-old opposition leader who said someone has to stand up for those he says were unjustly imprisoned or sacked by a government acting with emergency powers. Few thought it would amount to much, but the march has grown bigger than anyone imagined.

In the city of Kocaeli, many residents leaned out of their windows, clapping and waving the marchers on. It's the biggest show of opposition to the government in years, and it's drawn the wrath of the president, who says those marching are lining up with terrorists seeking to damage the country.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in foreign language).

KENYON: The most popular chant is rights, law, justice. And people here say it's a sign of the mounting public displeasure with the massive purge and crackdown on dissent that's still going on in the wake of a failed coup attempt last July. More than 100,000 people have lost their jobs, tens of thousands face charges and media rights groups say 100-plus journalists are in jail.

Thirty-year-old Fulya - like many marchers, she won't give her last name for fear of reprisal - says she wasn't happy with Erdogan's government before. But since the failed coup, things have gotten so bad, she can't stay silent.

FULYA: (Through interpreter) I don't want my child growing up in a system like this. I want my child to have a future. That's why I'm marching. We're following the truth about our country in the foreign media because in Turkey, they throw reporters in jail.

KENYON: Erdogan's supporters say the crackdown is needed to prevent another coup. But the purge has reached well beyond alleged coup-plotters to teachers who signed a petition calling for an end to the armed conflict against militant Kurds in the country's Southeast and to journalists who published items the government didn't like, such as photos of Turkish trucks loaded with weapons bound for Syria.

The marches also attracted people who've soured on the government well before the coup attempt and the ensuing crackdown. Kemal is a 45-year-old computer salesman who blames the government for the economic slump that cost him his job. He says it's about time the opposition stood up and took a stand.

KEMAL: (Through interpreter) It's a disaster. I haven't had an income for so long, I only survive through loans from friends. Something like this should have started before now, but better late than never.

KENYON: During a break in the march, opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu tried not to let expectations get too high. He says despite the bulging crowds on these streets, he doesn't expect Erdogan to make any big concessions, such as ending the state of emergency that's now nearly a year old.

KEMAL KILICDAROGLU: (Through interpreter) This government doesn't have a democratic culture, so I don't think one march is going to change them. With this mentality we're facing, it will take more activism. But it has to have the support of the public.

KENYON: The march is due to end Sunday in Istanbul, and many will be watching to see how the marchers are received when they come to the end of their long road. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Istanbul.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter Kenyon
Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.