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German interview could cost Turkey’s opposition leader dearly

Turkish opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu is under attack by media outlets loyal to the ruling party for allegedly telling a German magazine that German tourists should not visit Turkey.
Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), greets people during a rally to mark the end of his 25-day long protest, dubbed "Justice March", against the detention of the party's lawmaker Enis Berberoglu, in Istanbul, Turkey July 9, 2017. REUTERS/Umit Bektas - RTX3AQU1

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and its leader may be in serious trouble. The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its media arm are going after CHP Chairman Kemal Kilicdaroglu for an interview published in the German magazine Focus Aug. 5.

In the interview, Kilicdaroglu simply complains that “there is no guarantee for life and property” in Turkey because of the horrendous deterioration in the country’s judicial standards and the rule of law. He allegedly told Focus that German tourists should not visit Turkey, a statement that the CHP leader denies making.

But if he did say it, Kilicdaroglu has a point. In recent months, the Turkish state has been arresting human rights activists, including representatives of major international groups such as Amnesty International as well as the Turkish German journalist Deniz Yucel on terrorism charges. As Al-Monitor columnist Amberin Zaman wrote Aug. 7, "1990s-style disappearances" may be coming back to Turkey.

Kilicdaroglu received considerable attention and support at home and abroad earlier this summer for organizing a Justice March to protest Turkey’s troublesome trajectory. The march saw the nearly 70-year-old CHP leader walk from the capital Ankara to Istanbul (a distance of about 450 kilometers, or 280 miles) to protest the imprisonment of a CHP deputy and highlight judicial abuses. Kilicdaroglu’s walk started with a whimper in Ankara June 15 — attended by a few hundred people — but ended with a bang. By the time the Justice March ended in Istanbul July 9, hundreds of thousands of Turks from all walks of life were accompanying the CHP leader.

It is not surprising, then, that AKP leaders and their supporters in the media are using Kilicdaroglu’s Focus interview for their own benefit. Ignoring German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel’s statement in July that Turkey was “not safe” for German citizens and companies, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim condemned the CHP leader at a ceremony in Ankara Aug. 8, saying, “How dare you complain about your country to outsiders? … Mr. Kilicdaroglu clearly doesn’t want this country’s tourism to develop and for wealth to expand.” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressed wonder at how, if Turkey wasn’t safe and democratic, Kilicdaroglu could be allowed to walk from Ankara to Istanbul? Without a hint of irony, Erdogan added that the CHP leader will “answer to justice” for his Focus remarks.

Pro-AKP media outlets ran similar stories attacking the CHP leader for his alleged remarks.

Although Turkey is not the hot tourist spot it once was after taking hits from last year’s successive terror attacks and the coup attempt, foreign visitors are indeed coming back. Thanks to a rise in Russian tourists, the total number of foreign visitors coming to Turkey has increased by 14% in the first half of 2017 compared to 2016.

In this context, it is important for the AKP to signal to the public and the country’s vibrant business community (which badly needs the tourism industry’s foreign currency earnings) that the CHP would jeopardize much-needed economic recovery for political gains.

Unless the CHP and its chairman impress upon the Turkish public and the private sector that the rule of law and democracy are key ingredients of economic growth, the ruling AKP will turn back the tide that Kilicdaroglu started this summer.

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