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Reactions mount as Turkey bans alcohol sales during 17-day lockdown

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The government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has drawn the ire of secular Turks after it banned the sale of alcoholic beverages in stores for 17 days from Thursday as part of a new series of lockdown measures announced yesterday to curb a surge in COVID-19 cases.

The Justice and Development Party (AKP) government didn’t announce the measure publicly, creating confusion among secular Turks who reacted under the hashtag #alkolümedokunma (Don’t touch my alcohol) after an official from the Interior Ministry confirmed that the ban was in fact coming.

The hashtag was the top trending item on Twitter in Turkey as of Tuesday afternoon as thousands of social media users accused the president of trying to force his Islamic values on the nation of 83 million people by way of a ban that has nothing to do with the coronavirus pandemic.

Veli Ağbaba, deputy chairman of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), described the ban as “an apparent attempt to interfere in people’s lifestyles” and “an effort at social engineering.”

“This ban … is completely ideological. They have restricted personal liberties so much so that they have turned this country into a prison with no walls. This situation will trigger an increase in black-marketeering and the consumption of bootleg alcohol,” he added.

“Banning alcohol sales shows us that they are slowly infringing on our lifestyles,” said Hüseyin Çalışkaner, owner of the Istanbul-based research company Artıbir Araştırma.“If we don’t speak out against it, they will interfere with other areas of our lives, too.”

Sharing a video in which a written notice including the “ministry decision” and informing citizens about the ban was being hung in the alcoholic beverage section of a supermarket, journalist Bülent Mumay said: “There’s no such decision. Those who obey this unlawful ban … are party to a crime.”

“Even if it was a decision made by the ministry, it’s still unlawful,” Barış Atay, a deputy from the Workers’ Party of Turkey (TİP), said in reference to Mumay’s tweet.

“Don’t ban cocaine, though. It might be a problem for some of your members,” Atay also tweeted, addressing the AKP and referring to a recent incident reported by local media where a man, allegedly an advisor to an AKP lawmaker, was briefly detained after a video emerged showing him snorting cocaine in a luxury automobile.

The government of Erdoğan, a vocal opponent of alcohol and tobacco consumption, has regularly raised taxes on the products at far above the rate of inflation since it came to power in 2002.

The president on Monday announced what he termed a nationwide “full closure,” noting that daily infections must immediately be lowered to below 5,000 so Turkey can reopen in tandem with the rest of Europe and attract tourists.

The president has been holding dozens of party conventions in closed sports arenas attended by tens of thousands of people from across the country, which health experts say contributed to the worst peak in the outbreak.

The country reported 37,312 new coronavirus cases and 353 deaths in the last 24 hours, bringing the pandemic’s death toll to 38,711.

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