Clashes between protesters and Turkish police cast shadow over Republic Day celebrations that started on Monday with an official ceremony in the Turkish capital of Ankara, attended by political leaders and military commanders.
The official ceremony in Ankara took place at An?tkabir, the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. President Abdullah Gül, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an, Parliament Speaker Cemil Çiçek, Chief of General Staff Gen. Necdet Özel, Republican People’s Party (CHP) Chairman Kemal K?l?çdaro?lu, National Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli and Supreme Court of Appeals President Ali Alkan attended the ceremony.
Gül left a wreath on Atatürk’s mausoleum and those present observed a minute of silence, followed by the ?stiklal Mar??, the Turkish national anthem.
The president later signed the An?tkabir Special Register, writing: “Great Atatürk, we are celebrating the 89th anniversary of the republic you founded with great enthusiasm. We stand before you with the pride of being a country that is improving its democracy, protecting human rights and freedoms, strengthening its economy and maintaining reforms. We are trying our best to surpass the level of contemporary civilization, to maintain the basic values of our republic. … We, as a nation, bow before you with respect on this Republic Day and thank you. May you rest in peace.”
After the ceremony in An?tkabir, Gül received greetings and congratulatory messages at the Çankaya presidential palace, a first in history as this meeting has in the past been held in Parliament.
Republic Day was expected to see tensions in Ankara, as over 30 civil society groups, led by the Youth Union of Turkey (TGB), organized a rally for the occasion, permission for which was refused by the Ankara Governor’s Office on the grounds that “some groups may seek to incite anarchy in the country.” However, organizing groups and left-wing opposition parties remained harshly critical of the decision and reiterated their decision to ignore the ban.
Police initially set barricades in Ulus Square to prevent the crowd from marching to the An?tkabir and used tear gas and water cannons to try to break up the demonstration by tens of thousands of pro-secular protesters, but the march to mark the founding of the Turkish republic went on in defiance of the government ban.
The Republic Day celebrations have in the past few years become a symbol of the divide between Erdo?an’s elected, conservative government and its opponents who fear the country’s secular traditions are in danger.
The Ankara governor’s office last week denied authorization for the march, citing security reasons, and declared the gathering illegal.
Challenging the ban, tens of thousands of people assembled in the old part of Ankara, near the building housing Turkey’s first parliament, to march to the An?tkabir.
Police tried to disperse the crowds before a barricade was lifted and the protesters proceeded to march, waving Turkish flags and carrying posters of Atatürk.
They chanted: “We are the soldiers of Mustafa Kemal!” and “Turkey is secular and will remain secular!”
The march was supported by the main opposition party, whose leader Kemal K?l?çdaro?lu was among those affected by the gas.
Around 3,500 policemen were on duty as security for the rally. Buses carrying people from other provinces were stopped at checkpoints around the city and people went through a security check.