ANKARA, Turkey — Police used tear gas and water cannons against a demonstration by tens of thousands of pro-secular protesters, but Monday’s march to mark the founding of the Turkish republic went on in defiance of a government ban.
In the past few years, the Republic Day celebrations have become a symbol of differences between Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s elected, Islamic-leaning government and its opponents, who fear that the country’s secular traditions are in danger.
Last week, the Ankara governor’s office denied authorization for the march, citing security reasons, and declared the gathering illegal. Challenging the ban, tens of thousands of people assembled in the old part of Ankara, near the building housing Turkey’s first Parliament. They then marched to the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who founded the secular republic 89 years ago after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.
Government officials, meanwhile, marked the day with an official celebration and a parade at a hippodrome about a mile away.
Police fired tear gas and water cannon to disperse protesters who tried to break through police lines, before a barricade was lifted and the demonstrators proceeded to march, waving Turkish flags and carrying posters of Ataturk.
They chanted: ‘‘We are the soldiers of Mustafa Kemal!’’ and ‘‘Turkey is secular and will remain secular!’’ They dispersed peacefully after reaching the mausoleum, and there was no report of arrest or injury. There were conflicting reports however, about whether the demonstrators had broken past the barricades or the government had ordered the barricades to be lifted.
Under Erdogan’s leadership over the past decade, Turkey has boosted economic growth, raised its international profile, and reduced the power of the military, which had staged three coups since the 1960s. But serious concerns remain about public rights and freedoms in the country.