Thousands rally for Turkish PM in France, hundreds protest
LYON - Agence France Presse / Reuters
Thousands of Turkish expatriates wave their national flag at a political rally for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Chassieu, near Lyon, June 21, 2014. Turkey will vote for its first directly-elected president in August. REUTERS/Emmanuel FoudrotThousands of Turkish expatriates attended a political rally for Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan in Chassieu, near the French city of Lyon, June 21, while hundreds protested against him.
Organizers said 1,000 people took part in the protest organised by various groups near a local government office, where Erdoğan was meeting regional officials. Police said there were about 500 protesters.
"His government is authoritarian. It scorns democracy by violently repressing peaceful demonstrations and minorities," said Mehmet Demirbaş, head of a local cultural center for the Alevi community in Lyon.
The community, which follows a moderate form of Islam and accounts for up to 20 percent of Turkey's 76 million citizens, has frequently clashed with Erdoğan's government.
Erdoğan is touring European countries with large Turkish populations ahead of a widely expected run for the presidency in August. As many as 10,000 people demonstrated in Vienna when he visited Austria earlier this week.
After meeting French officials, Erdoğan gave a speech to members of Lyon's Turkish community, calling on them to maintain their identities.
He urged them not to forget their "culture, traditions, identity and especially faith" while integrating in France.
Touching on Turkey's long talks with the European Union on membership, Erdoğan said it was only a matter of time before the country was admitted.
"The EU needs Turkey ... the EU needs Turkey because of its young and dynamic population," he said. "Turkey is not a country that will be kept at the door forever."