Turkey’s main opposition leader has launched a European court appeal on Tuesday over an April vote that granted President Tayyip Erdogan sweeping powers, stepping up his challenge to the government as he led a 425 km protest march.
Erdogan accuses the protesters, marching from Ankara to Istanbul, of “acting together with terrorist groups”, referring to Kurdish militants and followers of a US-based cleric who Ankara says was behind last year’s coup.
Kemal Kilicdaroglu, head of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), hit back, defending his so-called justice march and accusing the government of creating a one-party state in the wake of the failed putsch on July 15.
On the 20th day of his march, triggered by the jailing of a CHP deputy on spying charges, Kilicdaroglu signed an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights against the election board’s decision to accept unstamped ballots in the April 16 referendum.
“Turkey has rapidly turned into a (one-)party state. Pretty much all state institutions have become branches of a political party,” he told reporters. “This is causing profound harm to our democratic, parliamentary system.”
The protest has gained momentum as it passes through northwest Turkey’s countryside.
As the protesters advance, Erdogan has stepped up his attacks on the march, saying the CHP was longer acting as a political opposition.
“We can see that they have reached the point of acting together with terror groups and those powers which provoke them against our country,” he said in a speech to officials from his ruling AK Party on Saturday.
Kilicdaroglu launched his march in Ankara on June 15 after Enis Berberoglu was jailed for 25 years for espionage, becoming the first lawmaker from the party imprisoned in a government crackdown in the wake of the attempted coup.
Since the purge began, more than 50,000 people have been jailed pending trial, 150,000 have been suspended or dismissed from their jobs. Ankara has also shut down 130 media outlets and some 160 journalists are in prison, according to union data.
In April a referendum was held on constitutional changes that sharply widened Erdogan’s presidential authority and the proposals won 51.4 percent approval in a vote, which has triggered opposition challenges including the latest CHP move.