June 15, 2017 / 9:05 AM / in a month

Thousands rally in Turkish capital after opposition lawmaker jailed

ANKARA, June 15 (Reuters) - Several thousand Turkish protesters marched in the capital Ankara on Thursday to demonstrate against the 25-year prison sentence handed down to an opposition lawmaker on spying charges.

A court on Wednesday sentenced Enis Berberoglu, a lawmaker from the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) on charges of giving an opposition newspaper a video purporting to show Turkey's intelligence agency trucking weapons into Syria.

Berberoglu is the first lawmaker from the secular CHP to be jailed since the government crackdown that followed last year's failed coup. More than 50,000 people have been jailed and more than 150,000 sacked or suspended from their jobs in the aftermath of the July 15 attempted putsch.

The leader of the CHP, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, has called the decision lawless and politically motivated. On Thursday, he launched a 425 kilometre (265 mile) march from Ankara to the Istanbul jail where Berberoglu is being detained. Party officials said they expect the walk could take the 68-year-old politician at least 20 days.

"Erdogan is waving his fingers at everyone who is against him," said Nuran, a retired teacher who declined to give her surname. "The arrest was made to send a message but we are not afraid. We will resist until they jail every single one of us."

She was among the crowds that packed into the central Ankara park where Kilicdaroglu started his march. Many people held banners, waved Turkish flags and wore t-shirts emblazoned with the word "Justice". Others carried posters of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the secular founder of modern Turkey, and the CHP.

Police imposed tight security measures at the site of the protest on Thursday morning, setting up security barriers and sealing off nearby roads and carrying out searches with bomb disposal teams and dogs. Water cannons and armoured police vehicles waited nearby the park.

"Our march will continue until there is justice in this country," Kilicdaroglu told reporters before heading for the park.

Turkey currently has 160 journalists imprisoned according to Turkish journalists union and has also jailed eleven lawmakers over terror charges. It has also shut down 130 media outlets following last July's failed coup.

The government says such measures are necessary, given the vast security threats it is facing. Rights groups and some of Turkey's Western allies have voiced concern at the scope of the crackdown, decrying what they say is growing authoritarianism. (Writing by Daren Butler and Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by David Dolan)

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