Turkey’s Erdogan tells million-strong unity rally: I support death penalty

Updated 6:43 AM EDT, Mon August 8, 2016
02:54 - Source: CNN
Turkish political parties unite for democracy

Story highlights

Erdogan says return of death penalty supported by public

Sunday rally unites political supporters of all stripes against coup attempt

(CNN) —  

More than a million Turks united in Istanbul on Sunday night as part of a pro-democracy rally following last month’s failed coup.

The massive demonstration, dubbed the “Democracy and Martyrs’ Rally,” was held at a parade ground in Turkey’s biggest city and saw both supporters of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AKP party and opposition parties gather.

There, in a sea of red Turkish flags, they expressed support for the democratic process, rejecting a return to the country’s restive past, when military coups were commonplace.

Erdogan also reiterated his willingness to reinstate the death penalty as part of a post-coup realignment of the country’s laws.

During the rally he said that despite the opposition of the European Union, the people of Turkey supported capital punishment – meaning that he had a mandate to sign it into the law.

The parade ground in Turkey's largest city, built to hold more than a million people, was a sea of red.
PHOTO: BULENT KILIC/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
The parade ground in Turkey's largest city, built to hold more than a million people, was a sea of red.

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Government, opposition read from same page

In an unprecedented show of unity, leaders and supporters of the opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and Republican People’s Party (CHP) joined Erdogan supporters in light of the failed takeover attempt.

CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu said that the bloody coup attempt, which claimed 239 lives and injured nearly 2,200 others, was the beginning of a new era of compromise.

“Post July 15, now there is a new Turkey. If we can carry this power and the culture of reconciliation even further, we will leave a better Turkey for our children,” he told the crowd, according to Turkish state media.

Hundreds of thousands of people gathered in Istanbul for a pro-democracy rally organised by the ruling party, bringing to an end three weeks of demonstrations.
PHOTO: OZAN KOSE/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
Hundreds of thousands of people gathered in Istanbul for a pro-democracy rally organised by the ruling party, bringing to an end three weeks of demonstrations.

The message of leaders’ and other speakers’ speeches were clear – thanking the Turkish population for standing up for the concept of democracy.

Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said that the takeover attempt had unified the country. “Every coup which does not kill us, makes us stronger. Just like here and now,” he said.

Erdogan said the coup’s architects “made a lot of sinister calculations but miss something. The faith and determination of this nation.” The president lays the blame at the feet of Fethullah Gulen, a one-time ally but now fierce critic who lives in self-imposed exile in the US.

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Over a million gathered to support a democratic Turkey, following the failed takeover attempt.
PHOTO: Ozkan Bilgin/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Over a million gathered to support a democratic Turkey, following the failed takeover attempt.

Erdogan himself came out and thanked people repeatedly for taking to the streets on the night of the coup to demonstrate against the army factions that were attempting to wrest power from the elected government – it was ultimately the president’s ability to rally the masses that night that allowed his government to stay in power.

He likened the coup plotters to “terrorists wearing military uniforms.”

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Erdogan: I support death penalty

Erdogan’s government has been emboldened by the support and has seized on the post-coup momentum to strengthen its grip on power. On Sunday, he pledged that if parliament approved the reintroduction death penalty he would enthusiastically sign it into law.

“Sovereignty belongs to the nation. Without any condition. Since you are demanding the death penalty, the authority that will decide on this is the great Turkish national assembly,” he said in his speech to the huge crowd.

“After our parliament takes such a decision the step to be taken is apparent. If it comes to my approval I hereby express that I will approve it.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaking in Instanbul during a rally against the failed military coup on July 15.
PHOTO: OZAN KOSE/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaking in Instanbul during a rally against the failed military coup on July 15.

European Union leaders have previously stated that if Turkey were to reintroduce the death penalty, it would effectively end the country’s application to join the bloc.

However Erdogan seemed unfazed: “In Europe they say there is no death penalty but there is the death penalty in America, Japan, China and most of the world.”

Turkey has received criticism for what it did after the coup, where it conducted massive arrest campaigns, detaining thousands of individuals from the military, schools and universities, health services and the media.

This is how many people Turkey has arrested since the failed coup

Erdogan’s government has attempted to justify its heavy-handed actions by insinuating that the Gulen movement – the followers of the aging cleric – is behind the failed coup has infiltrated these different institutions.