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ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday lambasted participants of the International Women’s Day march in Istanbul over what he described as “disrespect” during the call to prayer.

Police fired tear gas on Friday at thousands after authorities issued a statement banning any demonstration on the famous Istiklal avenue before the march, although the event has previously taken place peacefully.

In an unverified video that has since gone viral, women and men marching on Friday along the avenue continued chanting during the call to prayer.

“A group which came together in Taksim led by the (main opposition Republican People’s Party) CHP and (pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party) HDP supposedly for women’s day behaved rudely with whistling and chanting during the call to prayer,” Erdogan said.

The avenue is close to Taksim square, a traditional rallying point.

Erdogan played a short clip of the video as well as footage of an opposition rally from 2011 where it was claimed the Turkish flag could not be seen.

“(The opposition is) attacking our liberty and our future with this disrespect to our flag and our call to prayer,” he said during a rally in the southern city of Adana.

The president has been holding daily rallies across the country and often slamming the opposition ahead of local elections on March 31.

He has accused the CHP of being in an alliance with the HDP, which Erdogan says is a political front for Kurdish insurgents.

Although polls suggest Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) remains the biggest, there are fears the opposition may make larger gains as the economic slowdown and the weaker Turkish lira impacts households.

Erdogan often says that his Islamic-rooted party has given greater freedom to Muslims in Turkey where until a few years ago, women were ban-ned from wearing the Islamic headscarf in state institutions and universities.

But he has been accused by critics of eroding the secular pillars of modern Turkey.

The call to prayer has been at the centre of controversy in the history of the Turkish republic since its foundation in 1923.

Most recently in 2018, there was a row after CHP MP Ozturk Yilmaz called for it to be in Turkish rather than Arabic.

From 1932 to 1950, the call to prayer was banned in Arabic in Turkey.

Published in Dawn, March 11th, 2019