Hundreds of thousands in massive anti-coup rally in Istanbul

ISTANBUL (AP) — Hundreds of thousands of flag-waving supporters gathered in Istanbul Sunday for a giant rally to mark the end of nightly demonstrations since Turkey’s July 15 abortive coup that left more than 270 people dead.

The gathering at the Yenikapi meeting area by the Marmara Sea waterfront in Istanbul’s European side, officially called the “Democracy and Martyrs’ Rally,” aims to represent Turkish unity and was billed as a cross-party event. Religious leaders and two of Turkey’s three opposition parties were attending. The pro-Kurdish People’s Democracy Party, or HDP, was not invited.

A 60-meter (200-foot) stage was set up for the event, framed by two platforms and draped with massive national flags and banners depicting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Turkey’s founding father Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. A roll call of those who died opposing the coup was read out as the event began.

Crowds formed hours before the official start of the rally on Sunday afternoon, with people braving scorching temperatures as they waited to hear speeches from Erdogan and Turkey’s top political leadership. Construction cranes suspended giant Turkish flags beside the meeting area, while flag-draped boats and yachts zipped back and forth along the water.

Nearly 15,000 police were providing security at the event, which the state-run Anadolu news agency estimated could be attended by millions. Anti-aircraft batteries were also set up at the event grounds, while two helicopters circled overhead.

Thousands of buses and more than 200 boats were commissioned to bring attendees to the area, where they passed through one of 165 metal detectors before being given hats and flags. Those wounded during the attempted coup, and the families of those who died, were given special passes for a seated area.

The president urged people to bring only the Turkish flag instead of party banners.

“There we will stand together as a single nation, a single flag, a single motherland, a single state, a single spirit,” he said Saturday in comments carried by Turkish media.

An Ottoman marching band entertained the waiting crowd, with 240 members representing the number of those authorities say gave their lives fighting off the coup.

Following the abortive putsch, the Turkish government has been encouraging nightly anti-coup rallies in all of the country’s 81 provinces as well as in certain foreign locations such as Cologne, Germany.

The event was being simultaneously broadcast on giant screens in all of Turkey’s provinces, and crowds of thousands gathered to watch in the country’s major cities.

Turkish media also said a giant screen was to be set up in Pennsylvania, the U.S. state that is home to Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, who moved there in self-imposed exile in the late 1990s. The Turkish government says Gulen is the mastermind behind the failed coup and is seeking his extradition. The cleric denies any involvement.

The government has launched a sweeping crackdown in the coup’s aftermath, targeting followers of Gulen’s movement. Nearly 18,000 people have been detained or arrested, mostly from the military, and tens of thousands of people have been suspended or dismissed from jobs in the judiciary, media, education, health care, military and local government.

The scope of the crackdown has alarmed European countries and rights groups, who have urged restraint. Erdogan has lashed out at such criticism, and complained of a lack of support from the West for his government for surviving the coup.

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