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Sekular Turki protes di Izmir

Turks rally in Izmir despite blast

May 13 - At least one million Turks took secular Turks have gathered in the city of Izmir to protest against the government in a rally organisers hope will unite the opposition ahead of elections in July.

The protest was overshadowed by a bombing on Saturday in the city which killed one man and injured 14.

It was not immediately clear who was behind the bombing.

Streets and buildings in Turkey's second largest city, including army barracks, were covered in a sea of red Turkish flags and portraits of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey.

"Turkey is secular and will remain secular," protesters chanted. "No to sharia (Islamic law)."

Local police told Reuters at least 1 million people attended the seaside rally, with no major incidents reported.

Organisers, many leftwing groups, had hoped to attract 2 million people.

Turkey's main opposition centre-left Republican People's Party (CHP) and the smaller leftist Democratic Left Party (DSP), which are in talks to form an alliance, hope to use the rally to build momentum ahead of the July 22 election.

The government of Tayyip Erdogan, the prime minister, has been forced to call a general election months ahead of schedule to defuse a conflict with Turkey's secularists over a presidential election.

Turkey's secular elite, including opposition parties, top judges and army generals, successfully blocked the election of Abdullah Gul, the foreign minister.

They feared Gul might try to undermine Turkey's separation of state and religion, a claim he and his ruling AK Party strongly deny.

The political crisis has brought about mergers between opposition parties in the hope to pass a 10 per cent threshold of votes in July to enter parliament.

Opinion polls show the centre-right AK Party is likely to win most votes in July but it may fail to win an outright majority, forcing it to form a coalition government.

A series of large anti-AK Party rallies over the past month have again brought to the surface the great divide among Turks, who are predominantly Muslim, over the role of religion amid fast economic and social change.

Izmir, a transit point for Turkey's tourism industry, has traditionally been predominantly secular and pro-western. Agencies

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