ISTANBUL: Turkish police on Monday arrested nine people, including a member of the ruling AKP party, after a mob attack on opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu that sparked widespread criticism.
Kilicdaroglu, 70, of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) was assaulted on Sunday in a crowd as he attended a funeral in Ankara for a soldier killed fighting Kurdish militants in the southeast.
The attack came days after the opposition CHP won Ankara and Istanbul from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AKP in March 31 local elections, seen as a major setback for the ruling party after a decade-and-a-half in power.
A video of Sunday’s attack showed the CHP leader being mobbed and punched, then chanting crowds surrounded a house where he was taken for his protection. The images went viral on social media.
CHP leaders blamed Erdogan’s AKP for provoking the attack and demanded those detained be held accountable. They called for the interior minister to resign over the incident.
“This is not an ordinary attack, this is not an ordinary provocation. This is planned,” CHP Istanbul chief Canan Kaftancioglu told several thousands of supporters at a rally from the top of a bus.
The crowds chanted slogans “Shoulder to shoulder against Fascism,” and waved banners reading: “Are you so scared by the CHP’s success?” in reference to the AKP’s loss of Istanbul and Ankara.
During campaigning for the local polls, Erdogan often accused Kilicdaroglu and the CHP of backing the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and showed videos of the opposition leader at his rallies.
Kilicdaroglu was not badly injured in the assault.
The chief suspect in Sunday’s attack, identified only by his initials O.S., was arrested in Sivrihisar in central Anatolia and was being taken to Ankara, private NTV television reported.
The AKP later identified him as Osman Sarigun and said he was a party member who would face expulsion.
“AKP is against any form of violence... There is no room for violence in democratic politics,” AKP spokesman Omer Celik said on Twitter.
Eight other people have also been detained, officials said.
Speaking to AFP, the CHP’s Kaftancioglu welcomed the move to expel the suspect but said the problem was about the polarization of Turkish society.
“The situation will not change with one person’s dismissal unless the mentality encouraging attackers by polarizing society changes,” she said.
Erdogan had presented the local elections as a matter of national survival. He campaigned heavily even though he was not running in the election himself.
For his supporters, Erdogan is the strong leader Turkey needs to deal with its security threats and is a voice for more religiously conservative Turks.
Critics say Erdogan has stoked divisions by branding foes as enemies of the state and has undermined the rule of law with a broad crackdown on dissent.
The AKP has won every election since coming to power 17 years ago, but voters appeared to punish the party in major cities in this ballot as the economy slid into recession after a currency crisis last year.
Electoral authorities have given the CHP candidates their mandates for the Istanbul and Ankara mayor posts, but Erdogan’s AKP is seeking a re-run of the Istanbul vote, citing irregularities.
The CHP’s Ekrem Imamoglu won the Istanbul race by a very tight margin after two weeks of recounts.
The CHP held Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu responsible for “provocation” after he said last year he had ordered governors not to allow CHP members to join soldiers’ funerals.
Soylu ruled out any “outside provocation” in the incident, and said the main culprit was a relative of the dead soldier.