NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — Several thousand Turkish Cypriots marched Friday against what they say is Turkey’s unwanted influence that has emboldened hard-right groups to try and silence opposing views.
Protesters representing about 20 left-wing groups braved pouring rain to voice their opposition to Turkey’s agitation of “fascist” and “extremist” segments of their society.
The march in the breakaway, Turkish Cypriot half of the ethnically divided island-nation’s capital came four days after an attack against the offices of left-wing newspaper Afrika by supporters of Turkey’s president over its criticism of Ankara’s military offensive against a Kurdish enclave in northern Syria.
Afrika Editor-in-Chief Sener Levent accused Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of inciting supporters to vandalize the paper’s offices for saying the offensive was Ankara’s attempt to occupy Syrian territory.
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Afrika earlier ran a headline that likened Turkey’s action to its military “occupation” of Cyprus’ breakaway Turkish Cypriot north, where Turkey has kept 35,000 troops since 1974 when it invaded following a coup by supporters of union with Greece.
Erdogan called Afrika “a cheap and nasty newspaper” that ran an “impertinent” headline and invited supporters to “give the necessary response to this.”
Levent told The Associated Press outside his offices that he was happy to see so many people standing up for free speech.
“It is these people who are against Erdogan … we will never accept this harsh regime brought over from Turkey,” he said.
“No one will be able to stop this paper from saying what’s right.”
Protesters denounced the “fascist” attack on the paper that they said was alien to Turkish Cypriots’ way of life.
“This is a strong message to stop interfering,” veteran politician Kutlay Erk said. “We will never give up democracy, human rights and free speech.”
Several Greek Cypriots also joined in the march. Demonstrator Aydin Mehmet Ali said Cypriots need to create a united front against “fascistic and dictatorial actions from inside and outside” the country.