Simmering anger over the Turkish government’s response to this month’s devastating earthquakes spilled into football stadiums over the weekend when thousands of fans called on President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to step down.
“Lies, lies and more lies, it has been 20 years, resign,” chanted thousands of Fenerbahce fans during a match against Konyaspor on Saturday, according to footage of the game. The next day, supporters of rival Besiktas shouted “government resign,” videos circulating on Twitter and other social media platforms showed.
Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu warned fans against testing the government’s tolerance, while Erdogan’s nationalist ally Devlet Bahceli urged club presidents to prevent a repeat of such scenes by playing matches without spectators. The rare public outcry against Erdogan’s leadership is clouding the outlook for elections slated for May, when the president is looking to extend his record rule into a third decade.
“Sports fields are not political fields. Sports competitions are not centers of policy making,” Youth and Sports Minister Mehmet Muharrem Kasapoglu said on Monday. “Provocations will never be allowed,” he said, warning against hindering “unity and solidarity.
Erdogan, who is prioritizing the quick reconstruction of leveled cit-ies in the runup to the vote, is facing criticism over alleged delays in the government’s response to the disaster, in which more than 44,000 people died in Turkey alone. One of the country’s state-run relief organizations, Turkish Red Crescent, is accused of selling tents to a civilian non-governmental organization instead of dispatching them to the quake zone. The group says they were sold at cost.
Erdogan has acknowledged initial challenges in responding to the devastation caused by what he described as the “worst disaster of the last century.” The government and all relief organizations were eventually fully mobilized, he said.
In a display of national solidarity with quake victims, Besiktas fans showered the team’s Istanbul pitch with thousands of toys and scarfs to benefit children affected by the temblors during Sunday evening’s match with Antalyaspor.
Vodafone Park was packed with 40,000 fans, many of whom responded to the club’s request to bring toys to the stadium. The match had been postponed from November due to a terror attack on Istanbul’s landmark Istiklal Street.
The game was paused at the 4:17 mark to remember the earthquake.
Supporters also paid tribute to the tens of thousands victims prior to kick off. The dead include footballers Christian Atsu and Ahmet Eyup Turkaslan, and some players broke down in tears on the field during the ceremony.
The toys were gathered up by staff and will be sent to the areas impacted by the disaster.
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