Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has accused protestors who took part in a march in central İstanbul on the occasion of International Women’s Day of disrespecting Islam, claiming they booed the Islamic call to prayer, Turkish media reports said.
Several thousand women had gathered in İstiklal Street near İstanbul’s Taksim Square on Friday evening for a march to celebrate International Women’s Day, but police fired tear gas to disperse them.
In an election rally for the upcoming local elections in Turkey broadcast on television on Sunday, Erdoğan played a video taken during the protest, showing women chanting while a nearby mosque was reciting the call to prayer.
“They disrespected the Adhan [call to prayer] with slogans, booing and whistling,” Erdoğan told the crowd in the southern Turkish province of Adana.
Women who took part in the march said on Twitter the chanting and whistling was part of the demonstration and was not aimed at the call to prayer, which began during their protest.
The “March 8 Feminist Night March” has been organized annually on İstiklal Street since 2003.
The police had set up barricades at the entrance to the street and fired several rounds of tear gas to push back the marchers. Scuffles broke out as they pursued the women into the side streets off the avenue.
The March 8 Feminist Night March group issued a statement on Sunday condemning Erdoğan’s attempt to use Friday’s rally as “election material” in the press and on social media.
“Police violence against tens of thousands of women taking part/trying to take part in the night march cannot be covered up with polarizing language … fake news and hate,” the group said.
Turkish police regularly prevent protests in central İstanbul and elsewhere.
Ankara tightened restrictions after the imposition of a state of emergency following an attempted coup in 2016. The state of emergency was lifted last July.
Erdoğan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) frequently attract criticism for exploiting the public’s religious sensitivities for political gain.
Last week AKP deputy Kasım Gülpınar openly said it was normal for his party to abuse religion for politics and that other parties can do the same as well.
The deputy said: “Why shouldn’t we use it [religion], friends? You could do it as well. Religion is not under my monopoly. Everyone can use it.”