‘LOVE ERDOĞAN’: AKP rebuts Times Square billboard reading “STOP ERDOGAN”

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Billboards that read “LOVE ERDOĞAN” were erected in municipalities run by Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in support of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan after a “STOP ERDOGAN” billboard in New York City’s Times Square angered AKP officials.

The sign in Times Square was paid for by the US-based nonprofit Advocates of Silenced Turkey.

AKP spokesperson Ömer Çelik branded the sign as the work of the Gülen movement, a faith-based group outlawed by Ankara.

Following a coup attempt on July 15, 2016, the Turkish government and President Erdoğan pinned the blame on the Gülen movement, describing it as a terrorist organization.

Fethullah Gülen, who inspired the movement, strongly denied having any role in the failed coup and called for an international investigation into it, but President Erdoğan — calling the coup attempt “a gift from God” — and the government initiated a widespread purge aimed at cleansing sympathizers of the movement from within state institutions, dehumanizing its popular figures and putting them in custody.

“FETÖ [a derogatory acronym referring to the Gülen group as a terrorist organization] is an enemy of Turkey and hence our president. This treacherous network added to their betrayals by targeting our president with ads filled with lies. Their attacks on our president stem from their enmity towards our people,” Çelik tweeted.

Turks denounced the campaign, tweeting that the ads looked “Orwellian,” while some alluded to Stalin’s personality cult.

Signs in Kurdish that read “We love Erdoğan” appeared in Kurdish-majority cities, sparking backlash from Kurds who also took to Twitter to denounce the move.

The Erdoğan administration replaced 59 out of 65 elected mayors from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) with government appointees after the 2019 local elections.

Majority of Turks disapprove of Erdoğan’s performance

According to a recent survey 47.8 percent of Turks disapprove of Erdoğan’s performance as president, while his approval rating remained at 46 percent. Some 6.2 percent of respondents said they have no idea or gave no answer when asked if they approve of Erdoğan’s performance as president.

Erdoğan, whose AKP has been in power as a single party government since 2002, was elected president in 2014 and reelected in 2018. His election in 2018 was under a presidential system as Turkey switched from a parliamentary to a presidential system of governance with a public referendum in 2017. Under the presidential system, Erdoğan is accused of establishing one-man rule, destroying the separation of powers and silencing dissent.

The AKP government launched a massive crackdown on non-loyalist citizens following the failed 2016 coup as thousands of people were jailed on trumped-up terrorism or coup charges.

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