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Kurds, Alevis protest Erdogan in Cologne

November 12, 2016

Thousands have taken to the streets of Cologne to protest Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Earlier this month, Turkey's president ordered the arrests of several opposition politicians.

Alewiten und Kurden demonstrieren in Köln gegen Erdogan
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/M. Meissner

About 25,000 Kurds and Alevis took to the streets of the western German city of Cologne on Saturday to protest the policies of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Near the Rhine River, protesters said they sought "democracy, peace and freedom" and opposed Erdogan's "dictatorship" following sweeping purges by authorities since a failed coup in July.

Protesters waved banners with such slogans as "Terrorist Erdogan" and "Erdogan Fascist." Some held up pictures of Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Ocalan, who has sat in detention since 1999 on the prison island of Imrali, off the coast of Istanbul. Others held portraits of Selahattin Demirtas, the young co-leader of the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), arrested last week with several other members of the group, which Erdogan calls a front for the PKK.

Protesters want German and EU leaders to pressure Erdogan rather than make frequent accommodations to ensure the president's cooperation in a controversial refugee swap. Sevim Dagdelen, a Left deputy in the Bundestag, said Germany's government needed to take a stand against Erdogan because, otherwise, "Erdogan will only be encouraged to proceed even more brutally against democrats in Turkey."

Rights groups have documented the crackdown as it has spread from targeting followers of the US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Erdogan accuses of masterminding the coup, to other opposition circles, including the media and Kurdish groups. More than 100 journalists have gone to jail, as have the 10 opposition members of parliament and several academics.

Frank Überall, the chairman of the German Federation of Journalists, said Erdogan had taken "a holiday from press freedom." Speaking at Saturday's demonstrations, Überall said Erdogan had sought to unburden himself of "bothersome questions from reporters, from critical reports about his politics," to be "free from critical expression of opinion." Überall called for German journalists to show solidarity with their colleagues in Turkey.

Stones 'were thrown'

Police engaged some protesters in clashes on Saturday. One man set off a firework and some demonstrators chucked projectiles at the officers. A policeman sustained an injury to his hand, and officers made a handful of arrests.

"Flares were ignited by a few individuals," authorities announced in a statement. "When police tried to prevent them, stones and other objects were thrown at them."

With 20 million followers in Turkey, Alevi Muslims represent the country's largest religious minority, after the majority Sunnis. Germany is home to about 500,000 Alevis. 

About 6,500 people protested Erdogan's arrest of leading Kurdish politicians the previous Saturday.

Erdogan: the media crackdown taking Turkey a step closer to autocracy

mkg/rc (epd, AFP, dpa, AP)