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Europe

Thousands throng Istanbul square week after Turkey's failed coup

media People gather in Istanbul’s Taksim Square to celebrate the defeat of the putschists. Tony Cross/RFI

Turkey is under a state of emergency a week after the failed military coup that aimed to topple Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. But thousands of people gather in towns and cities every night, encouraged by the government to celebrate the popular mobilisation that defeated the putschists and led to a purge of state institutions and private education.

Stirring music booms out as the sun sets on Istanbul’s Taksim Square.
The crowd – stocky men, women in headscarves, young couples with kids – wave Turkish flags and take selfies.

Long queues form at food vans and flag sellers are doing a roaring trade.
The crowd swells as night falls and is boosted by tourists – I meet some from Libya and Algeria - who’ve come to take a look at the result of the latest shock to Turkish politics.

Erdogan appears on the vast screens overlooking the square and delivers a speech that is being broadcast to similar gatherings across the country.

His speech is long and often interrupted by applause from the audience he is addressing in front of the cameras.

A week ago civilians faced down soldiers here on Taksim Square, on the bridges across the Bosphorus and in other cities, such as the capital Ankara, defeating the coup and in some cases dispatching the soldiers sent to carry it out.
Since then Erdogan has appealed to the population to turn out every night and remain on their guard against further attempts.

Mesut, a young IT engineer, does not believe there will be another one. “We are very strong,” he says. “We trust our government because we are supporting democracy, because we are living in 21 century, it shouldn’t be, this kind of thing… we are supporting our democracy. We are European country in Turkey, we are not Middle East anymore.”

Three years ago on Taksim Square, police used water cannon and teargas to break up protests against Erdogan and last year saw two bitterly fought elections.

But all political parties opposed the coup and the popular opposition to it was massive.
Songul, who is living and working in Belgium, has returned to show her opposition to military power.

“I think that people have the strength to protect democracy,” she comments. “I think democracy has spoken now. The people have spoken, so I’m very glad that everybody’s together now and protected the country. It is over I think.”

Some 50,000 people have been fired from their jobs or jailed on suspicion of association with the movement led by Fehtullah Gulen, an imam now in the US who was once Erdogan’s ally and is now his most hated opponent.

Erdogan claims Gulen’s network of influence was behind the power grab, a charge the exiled cleric denies. But the president is clearly hoping to break his enemy’s power once and for all.

Songul thinks that concerns voiced by European leaders about the extent of the purge are misplaced.

“I think people have now the knowledge that Erdogan is for democracy. He’s not a dictator, which is said by many countries,” she insists. “I think he is supporting democracy and the people love him. It’s possible that he has more power but he is not a dictator.”

Erdogan has emerged from the coup strengthened on the street and, perhaps, within his own Justice and Development Party (AKP).

It remains to be seen how he will use that power.
 

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