Pro-Erdogan rally in Germany draws 40,000

COLOGNE, Germany, July 31 (UPI) — Police estimated about 40,000 descended on Cologne on Sunday to show support for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, as well as thousands of others for counter demonstrations.

Demonstrators chanted “Turkey” and waved national red flags as 2,700 officers were deployed at the rally, which was organized by the Union of European-Turkish Democrats.

“We are here because our compatriots in Germany are standing up for democracy and against the attempted military coup in Turkey,” said Turkey’s sport and youth minister, Akif Cagatay Kilic, who attended the rally.

Four counter marches of about 1,500 each took place.

Germany didn’t allow Erdogan’s participation via videoconference.

A senior Turkish official says the ban violates freedom of expression. “It’s unacceptable,” said Erdogan’s spokesman, İbrahim Kalın.

The German Federal Constitutional Court upheld the decision to ban the video link.

But a message by Erdogan was read at the rally, thanking his supporters.

About 3 million people of Turkish heritage live in Germany.

The rally and demonstrations came after terrorism in the country linked to Islamic State in the past few weeks.

On July 15, Turkish armed forces attempted a coup, which failed.

More than 750 soldiers arrested since the coup attempt are being released, state media reported Saturday. But 231 members of the military remain in custody and another 1,700 military personnel have been expelled and dishonorably discharged.

Through Saturday, Erdogan said, 18,699 people have been detained and 10,137 have been charged. Also, about 3,500 have been released.

Turkey also has suspended or removed more than 60,000 people from jobs in the military, security services, judiciary and media.

The president said all of Turkey’s military training academies would be closed and replaced by a single national defense university.

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said Friday the main air base in capital Ankara and other key military installations in Istanbul would also be shut down. Those bases, used by the coup organizers, would instead be turned into memorials for the 300 victims who died in the coup attempt.

According to a statement by Turkish armed forces, 8,651 soldiers took part in the failed coup attempt, making up 1.5 percent of the military’s total personnel.

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