© Reuters. Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu greets his supporters as they gather in front of his office as a Turkish court sentenced Imamoglu to more than two years in prison and imposed a political ban on insulting officials state, in Istanbul, Turkey December 14, 2
By Ezgi Erkoyun
ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Thousands of Turks protested the verdict and political ban of Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu on Thursday, voicing criticism of the government ahead of next year’s elections seen as one of the worst. President Tayyip Erdogan’s biggest political challenge.
A Turkish court on Wednesday sentenced Imamoglu, a prominent opponent of Erdogan, to two years and seven months in prison, just as the ban must be confirmed by an appeals court. The verdict has been widely criticized at home and abroad as an abuse of democracy.
As patriotic music played, the crowd waved Turkish flags in front of the government building of the city of 16 million people in Istanbul. A large banner featuring the portrait of Turkish founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk was hung over the building.
“Rights, law, justice… The day will come when the AKP will be held accountable,” the crowd chanted as the rally began, referring to Erdogan’s ruling AK Party.
“The government is scared and that’s why there is such a ruling. No one can stop this country,” said Filiz Kumbasar, 56, who came from the town of Duzce about 200 kilometers away to take part in the rally. protest, said.
Imamoglu was convicted for insulting officials in a speech after winning the 2019 Istanbul elections. Critics say the Turkish courts obeyed Erdogan’s will. The government says that the judiciary is independent.
Imamoglu said the prison sentence punished his success.
“Sometimes in our country there is no success without punishment,” he said. “I consider this senseless and illegal punishment imposed on me as a reward for my success.”
Presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for June could be the biggest political challenge for Mr Erdogan after two decades in power, as Turks face costs Living standards increased after the currency collapse and inflation increased.
The six-party opposition coalition formed against Erdogan, led by Imamoglu’s Republican People’s Party (CHP), has yet to agree on their presidential candidate. Imamoglu has been seen as a potential opponent and polls suggest he will beat Erdogan.
Imamoglu was on trial for a speech in which he said those who canceled the first vote of 2019 – in which he narrowly defeated a candidate from Erdogan’s AK Party – were “guys” stupid”. Imamoglu said his remarks were a response to Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu for using the same language against him.
After the initial results were annulled, he comfortably won re-election, ending 25 years of rule in Turkey’s largest city by the AKP and its Muslim predecessors. it.