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Turkish Cypriots Rally behind Erdogan

NICOSIA — Turning a town square into a sea of red and white Turkish flags, several thousand demonstrators rallied in the Turkish Cypriot half of ethnically divided Cyprus’ capital Nicosia to denounce the July 15 failed coup in Turkey and show support for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Demonstrators, including many mainland Turks who live in the island’s breakaway north, chanted pro-democracy slogans along with Erdogan’s name in an outburst of national fervor in Sarayonu Square Friday.

An eight-meter (26-foot) banner emblazoned with the image of modern Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk was flanked by the flags of Turkey and the breakaway Turkish Cypriot state. Images of Ataturk in military uniform and civilian clothes were also projected onto a massive screen behind a stage where speakers addressed the crowd.

A rendition of a 17th-century Ottoman battle hymn blared while many in the crowd held aloft placards reading, “no to the coup, yes to democracy” and shouted “long live democracy.”

“We’re very happy to have Turkey always supporting us and being by our side, so we’re here to show Turkey we’re standing by its side and that it’s not alone,” Turkish Cypriot demonstrator Muzaffer Karabetca told The Associated Press.

A Turkish invasion in 1974 in the wake of a coup aiming at union with Greece split the island along ethnic lines. Only Turkey recognizes a Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence and gives tens of millions of euros in financial support to the north each year while maintaining more than 40,000 troops there.

Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Tugrul Turkes praised demonstrators for turning out, adding that he hoped to see Greek Cypriots from the island’s internationally recognized south to join the rally and show their support.

Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades, a Greek Cypriot, and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci, who didn’t attend the rally, are now engaged in talks aiming to reunify the island as a federation.

Sunat Atun, the Turkish Cypriot energy minister, said the rally sends the message that Turkish Cypriots are “hand in hand with motherland Turkey.”

“The Turkish nation and the Turkish Cypriots stand as one,” he told The Associated Press. “This also shows full support for the leadership of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, one of the most effective leaders in the world.”

Erdi Safar, a 27-year-old mainland Turk, said Erdogan is a strong leader that won’t allow Turkey to be plunged into chaos like what has happened in other countries.

The rally was organized by the “Support Democracy Platform,” an umbrella group of many associations and right-wing political parties. One left-wing Turkish Cypriot party said it wouldn’t participate in what it called a rally supporting “Erdogan’s dictatorship.”

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