ANKARA, Turkey, (AP) – Thousands of flag-waving protesters filled streets in yet another city in Turkey on Saturday, accusing the government of trying to impose Islamic values on the country’s Western way of life.
The rally in western Denizli was the latest of several large demonstrations since early April against the Islamic-rooted party of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Turks also have rallied in the country’s four biggest cities — Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir and Samsun.
“Turkey is secular and will remain secular!” the demonstrators chanted in Denizli, where security was extremely tight amid a surge of attacks by separatist Kurdish guerrillas across the country.
The leaders of two main secular parties have formed an alliance to challenge Erdogan in elections scheduled for July 22.
Erdogan’s government alarmed many secular Turks last month by nominating his ally, Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, as a presidential candidate. Many Turks saw the move as an effort to allow his Islamic-leaning party to expand its powers and govern unchecked.
Secular opposition parties then boycotted the presidential voting process in parliament, creating a political deadlock and forcing Gul to abandon his bid.
The standoff, along with increasing pressure from Turkey’s powerful military, led Erdogan to call for early parliamentary elections. Legislators also passed an amendment to allow the president to be elected directly by the people, rather than by parliament, which is dominated by members of Erdogan’s party.
On Friday, President Ahmet Necdet Sezer vetoed the amendment, saying it was incompatible with Turkey’s democratic system and could lead to instability.
The veto was widely expected. Sezer argued that a president elected by popular vote could challenge the nation’s will, which could spark instability in the country.
Erdogan has said his government will have the amendment passed in Parliament a second time. The president cannot block the amendment a second time, but could call a referendum on the issue.
The government called elections four months earlier than scheduled to defuse the political tensions that exposed an ever growing divide over the public role of Islam in this predominantly Muslim but secular country.
The military threatened to intervene to protect the secular system as secular Turks took to the streets to protest the government which has its roots in Turkey’s Islamic movement.