Erdogan to address pro-Palestinian rally on eve of Turkey’s centenary

ISTANBUL, Oct 28 (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan will join on Saturday what is expected to be one of the largest pro-Palestinian rallies since the Israel-Hamas war began, courting his Islamist political base a day ahead of the centenary of Turkey’s secular republic.

Political analysts said his planned address in Istanbul aimed to reinforce his growing criticism of Israel’s bombardment of the Gaza Strip and to overshadow Sunday’s celebrations marking Turkey’s secular roots.

Turkey has condemned Israeli civilian deaths caused by Hamas’s Oct. 7 rampage through southern Israel, but Erdogan this week called the militant group Palestinian “freedom fighters”.

He also criticised some Western nations’ unconditional support for Jerusalem, drawing sharp rebukes from Italy and Israel.

Unlike many NATO allies, the European Union and some Gulf states, Turkey does not consider Hamas a terrorist organisation. It has long hosted the Islamist group’s members, supports a two-state solution and has offered to play a role in negotiating the release of hostages abducted during the Oct. 7 assault.

Sinan Ulgen, a former Turkish diplomat and director of the Centre for Economic and Foreign Policy Studies, an Istanbul-based think-tank, said Gaza’s worsening humanitarian crisis and pressure from political allies had prompted Erdogan to sharpen his rhetoric.

Turkey “will protect its principles and share these with the international community, but it needs to do this with a more delicate diplomacy if it expects to play such a (future) diplomatic role,” Ulgen said.

The heads of Erdogan-allied nationalist and Islamist parties – which helped him secure victory in tight May elections – are expected to attend the rally at Istanbul’s old airport. Some Turkish media reported several Arab leaders were also invited.

Ataturk legacy

This week, Erdogan invited all Turks to attend the rally where he said “only our flag and the Palestine flag will wave”. His Islamist-rooted AK Party predicted more than a million people would come.

Modern Turkey’s 100th anniversary comes on Sunday, when newspaper headlines could be dominated by news of the Saturday rally rather than celebrations of the republic’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, analysts say.

Erdogan, Turkey’s longest-serving leader, and his Islamist-rooted AK Party have eroded support for the Western-facing ideals of Ataturk, who is revered by most Turks. In recent years, Erdogan’s portraits have emerged alongside that of Ataturk on government buildings and schools.

“The symbolism is clear and no one in Turkey is unaware of it – that the pro-Palestinian rally is likely to overshadow celebrations for the centennial of the secular republic,” said Asli Aydintasbas, visiting fellow at the Washington-based Brookings Institution.

She said that while Erdogan’s comments about Hamas reflected Ankara’s long-held position, he aimed to benefit from anti-Israel sentiment domestically and “consolidate Turkey’s Sunni conservatives”.

The government has said the Israel-Hamas conflict will not curb celebrations of the 100th anniversary, for which it has organised events across the country.

Additional reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Jonathan Spicer Editing by Helen Popper

Credit: Source link