Crowds gather for massive anti-coup rally in Istanbul




ISTANBUL (AP) — Huge crowds gathered Sunday in Istanbul for a massive rally to mark the end of nightly democracy demonstrations following Turkey's abortive July 15 coup that killed over 270 people.

A 60-meter (200-foot) stage was set up at the Yenikapi meeting area by the Marmara Sea in Istanbul's European side. It was framed by two platforms and draped with massive national flags and banners depicting Turkey's founding father Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and current President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Following the abortive putsch, the Turkish government has been encouraging nightly anti-coup rallies in all of the country's 81 provinces as well as in certain foreign locations such as Cologne, Germany.

Sunday's grand finale in Istanbul, officially called the "Democracy and Martyrs' Rally," aims to represent Turkish unity, with Erdogan urging attendees to bring only the Turkish flag instead of party banners.

"There we will stand together as a single nation, a single flag, a single motherland, a single state, a single spirit," he said Saturday in comments carried by Turkish media.

The event will be attended by the highest levels of Turkish leadership and two of Turkey's three opposition parties. The pro-Kurdish People's Democracy Party, or HDP, was not invited.

Nearly 15,000 police will be providing security at the event, which the state-run Anadolu news agency estimates could be attended by millions. Anti-aircraft batteries have also been set up at the event grounds.

Thousands of buses and over 200 boats have been commissioned to bring attendees to the area, where they will pass through one of 165 metal detectors before being given hats and flags.

The event will be simultaneously broadcast on giant screens in all of Turkey's provinces. Turkish media also claims that a giant screen will also be set up in Pennsylvania, the U.S. state that is home to Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, who moved there in self-imposed exile in the late 90s. Ankara has claimed that Gulen is the mastermind behind the failed coup, but Gulen denies all knowledge of it.

Artists and celebrities will be entertaining the attendees. There will also be a performance by an Ottoman marching band, whose 240 members represent those the government says gave their lives fighting off the coup.
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