Thousands swarm square to support Istanbul’s mayor

Published December 16, 2022
Supporters of Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu wave national flags as they gather in front of the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality during a protest on Thursday.—AFP
Supporters of Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu wave national flags as they gather in front of the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality during a protest on Thursday.—AFP

ISTANBUL: Tens of thousands of Turks swarmed a central Istanbul square on Thursday in solidarity with the city’s opposition mayor after he was banned from politics ahead of next year’s presidential election.

A criminal court on Wednesday sentenced Ekrem Imamoglu to more than two years in prison and barred him from holding office for the same length of time for “insulting a public official” in 2019.

Imamoglu will continue to serve as mayor of Turkey’s largest city while his appeal is heard in a case linked to a hugely contested election in which his initial victory was annulled.

The case could be fast-tracked for a quick hearing and destroy any bid by Imamoglu to run in the June presidential campaign. The US State Department said it was “deeply troubled and disappointed” by the potential removal of one of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s biggest rivals from the political scene.

Germany called it “a heavy blow to democracy” while France urged Turkey to “reverse its slide away from the rule of law, democracy and respect for fundamental rights”.

“This sentence is disproportionate and confirms the systemic lack of independence of the judiciary and the undue political pressure on judges and prosecutors in Turkey,” a European Union said in a statement.

Turkey’s fractured opposition has struggled to unite behind a single candidate to challenge Erdogan’s two-decade rule in the upcoming vote.

Polls show the 52-year-old Istanbul mayor as one of the more likely challengers to beat Erdogan in a head-to-head race. But his secular CHP party’s leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu — a bookish former civil servant who struggles in opinion polls — is still pushing hard for his own candidacy.

Meral Aksener of the nationalist Iyi (Good) Party has also seen her electoral ratings shoot up.

Published in Dawn, December 16th, 2022

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