Turkey opposition chief enters Istanbul in 'march for justice'

Turkey opposition chief enters Istanbul in 'march for justice'

Istanbul (AFP) - Thousands of people joined Turkey's main opposition party in Istanbul on Friday on a "march for justice," begun three weeks ago to protest the jailing of one of its lawmakers, as it wound its way into the city.

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of the People's Republican Party (CHP), has been walking since June 15 without party insignia, carrying a sign bearing the word "justice" in Turkish.

Some analysts have said Kilicdaroglu's 450-kilometre (280 mile) trek from Ankara to Istanbul is a significant challenge to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan but the Turkish strongman has regarded it with disdain.

Kilicdaroglu began the march after Enis Berberoglu, a former journalist turned CHP lawmaker, was sentenced to 25 years in jail on charges of leaking classified information to a newspaper.

"Today we enter Istanbul and we are extremely happy," Kilicdaroglu said. "I am at peace because without anyone being injured, we have accomplished walking a long road".

"Together on July 9, our search for justice will continue."

Every day, more people have joined the CHP leader, including women's rights groups, on the march, which is due to end on July 9 with a mass rally outside Berberoglu's prison in the Istanbul district of Maltepe.

"This march has three important goals: firstly, Kilicdaroglu marks his status as a leader. Secondly, the CHP is connecting with the people again... and finally it unites the Turkish people," marcher Issa Agacik told AFP.

Kilicdaroglu's spokesman said some 45,000 people followed the CHP leader on Friday with chants of "rights, law, justice".

Most marchers carried signs with the word "justice" or wore red or white T-shirts and hats emblazoned with the word.

Onlookers praised the march and those walking, some coming out of factories to show support.

In a statement to AFP, Kilicdaroglu said he was walking "for all Turkish victims of injustice".

About 50,000 people have been arrested under Turkey's state of emergency, imposed after last July's failed coup, and another 100,000 have lost their jobs, including teachers, judges, soldiers and police officers.

But Erdogan has accused Kilicdaroglu's party of siding with terrorism. However authorities have not impeded the walk's progress, with police providing security for the march every day.

Kilicdaroglu has claimed that Erdogan is the "July 20 coup plotter", referring to the date when the president declared a state of emergency, and said Berberoglu's arrest was "the last straw".

But in June, Erdogan appeared to warn Kilicdaroglu he could face legal troubles over the march, telling the CHP leader he "must respect the judiciary's decisions".