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Turkey: Nationalist leader resigns Besiktas membership after fans hit out at government

Erdogan ally cancels football club membership after fans call for government to resign over earthquake failings
Turkish football fans protested the government's response to the earthquakes at Besiktas and Fenerbahce (Reuters)

Turkish football fans sang “government resign” in stadiums this weekend, as they responded furiously to the official handling of this month’s earthquakes, which have killed more than 50,000 people in southern Turkey and northern Syria.

“Twenty years of lies and cheating, resign,” supporters of Istanbul team Fenerbahce, currently second in Turkey’s Super Lig, shouted during their team’s 4-0 win over Konyaspor. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is a Fenerbahce fan.

'At least someone resigned from somewhere'

– Metin Ergun, MP

At Besiktas, during Sunday’s game against Antalyaspor, fans called on the government to resign as they threw thousands of soft toys onto the pitch to donate to children affected by the earthquake. 

After the match, the leader of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), which is an ally to Erdogan's ruling AKP, described the chants as irresponsible and disrespectful to the earthquake victims. 

“The Nationalist Movement Party strongly condemns the use of sports in dirty politics during such sensitive and painful days for our country,” Devlet Bahceli wrote on Twitter, calling on clubs to play behind closed doors in order to prevent further protests. 

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Following the Besiktas fans' protest, Bahceli cancelled his membership of the club, his party announced in a statement. One of Bahceli’s deputies, Semih Yalcin, followed suit.

The resignations from Besiktas were widely ridiculed on Turkish social media.

Ahmet Davutoglu, the former prime minister, tweeted: “Fans said 'down with the govt'. Bahceli misunderstood again and renounced his Besiktas membership.” 

“At least someone resigned from somewhere,” said Metin Ergun, MP for the southwestern city of Mugla, in response to MHP’s announcement. 

“It's great that those who were nowhere to be seen for 10 days after the earthquake renounced their Besiktas membership in 10 minutes,” tweeted Turkish football pundit Ugur Karakullukcu.

Some football clubs disagreed with the protests. Caykur Rizespor, which is based in Rize, Erdogan’s ancestral hometown, called the protests “provocative acts” and branded protesters “sewer rats” in a statement on Twitter.

“If anyone wants to conduct politics, there will be elections in the coming days,” Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said.

The Union of Clubs, which represents every team in Turkey’s top league, released a statement calling for politics to be kept out of football grounds, which was read as an implicit condemnation of the calls for the government to resign. 

The official Twitter account of Fenerbahce retweeted the statement, adding that they would assist efforts to help earthquake-hit areas with “all our might”.

Riot police deployed

At a separate demonstration in Istanbul, riot police moved swiftly to detain protesters, who were handcuffed and dragged into police buses. 

Dozens of members and supporters of the leftist opposition Workers' Party of Turkey were detained in central Istanbul on Sunday at an anti-government protest, the party said.

Three weeks after the devastating earthquakes, which left 1.5 million homeless, public anger and opposition towards Erdogan is growing, months before he faces the toughest parliamentary and presidential elections of his 20 years in power.

Turkey’s president has toured shattered cities, promising rapid reconstruction and punishment for constructors who skirted safety regulations, however this may not be enough to convince angry survivors who say emergency rescue teams were too slow to deploy, Reuters reported.

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