10/30/2012, 00.00
TURKEY
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Clashes in Ankara as secularists celebrate Republic Day

Police cracks down hard on 50,000 people demonstrating in favour of a secular state as the prime minister and the opposition leader engage in a war of words. President Gül bemoans "unwanted developments" during the celebration.

Ankara (AsiaNews) - The storm surrounding yesterday's clashes marking the 89th anniversary celebrations of the founding of the Turkish Republic shows no sign of abetting.

Traditionally a time of festive celebration, the day saw the government organise the official ceremony at Ankara's hippodrome.

However, called by some 30 secular associations and NGOs, over 50,000 people gathered in front of the old Parliament house in order to march on the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, founder of the Turkish Republic.

Protesters carried national flags and portraits of Atatürk, and shouted anti-government slogans such as "Turkey is secular and will remain secular".

Ankara Governor's Office last week denied permission for the rally, claiming it had intelligence that some provocative actions may occur during the meeting.

Police deployed some 3,500 officers in the area, and used pepper gas and water cannons to disperse the crowd.

Turkish President Abdullah Gül lamented the "unwanted developments."

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called them a "provocation," slamming the opposition for lack of respect for the national holiday. He also criticised police for using too much force against a peaceful demonstration.

"These people had only Turkish flags in their hands, but the state had police and pepper gas," said Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of the main opposition party, the Republican People's Party (CHP).

Reacting to the opposition leader, PM Erdoğan noted that he was by his side in 2011.

"Mr. Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu celebrated last Republic Days beside me, in the official celebrations. Why isn't this happening now? Why did he try to celebrate it in his own way"? the prime minister was quoted as saying. The opposition's rally "is not an alternative celebration, this is a provocation," he added.

The prime minister also criticised the media for focusing on the tear gas used by police, omitting to say that 11 police officers were hurt in the clashes.

"Everybody will celebrate the fete the way they want to do." However, "Everybody is to celebrate it without breaking general rules and disturbing others," President Gül noted.

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