Turkish lawyers march through capital Ankara after police lift barricades

Turkish lawyers marched through the capital Ankara on Tuesday following a one-day interruption as police stopped the group from entering the city.

Representatives of 80 bar associations across Turkey have congregated to hold the so-called March for Defence in protest at government efforts to curb their powers.

"We said we would resist and win. We won. Barricades are being lifted and we continue to walk as presidents of bar associations. I would like to thank all my colleagues and citizens who support this resistance," Gökhan Bozkurt, president of the Aydın bar association, said on Twitter.

The lawyers embarked on the march to Ankara last week in their official court robes to protest government plans to amend laws regulating lawyers and their associations. The lawyers say the legal changes are aimed at reducing the power of the associations, many of which are outspoken critics of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government.

Police had surrounded and blockaded an area on Ankara’s city limits with barricades and a large number of vehicles after the group started an impromptu sit-in on Monday where they were stopped.

The march has also exposed divisions within the lawyers’ groups over national leadership. Lawyers did not allow Metin Feyzioğlu, president of the Union of Turkish Bar Associations (TBB) who frequently comes out in support of the Turkish government, to enter the sit-in area.

Feyzioğlu, accompanied by 15 association presidents visited Anıtkabir, the mausoleum of the Turkish Republic’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, on Monday, as the police intervention was happening, prompting Turkish social media users to start a hashtag calling for Feyzioğlu’s resignation.

Police surrounded the area on Ankara’s city limits with barricades and a large number of vehicles after the group started the impromptu sit-in where they were stopped.

Sporadic scuffles erupted between the lawyers, who went to meet bar association presidents at the capital’s entrance, and riot police units. Police detained one bar association deputy head after he tried to pass the barricade and join the group.

From the early hours of Tuesday morning, some Ankara residents were showing their support for the protest by sounding their car horns as they passed by the police blockade.

Perihan Kayadelen, the secretary general of the Izmir bar association, said police raided the protest group at midnight to fine lawyers who did not wear face masks. The officers cited measures to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

The lawyers had aimed to reach Anıtkabir as the final stage of the march. Such visits to the mausoleum are common in the country when protesting the government.