Hundreds of Turkish Cypriots assembled in the pouring rain outside the Nicosia offices of Afrika newspaper on Monday evening to protest against the violent attacks on the daily’s premises earlier in the day by supporters of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan.
A strong police force separated the Turkish Cypriots from a group of ultranationalist Grey Wolves who had also gathered.
Monday evening’s protest came after a day of escalating tension, sparked by an article in the outspoken newspaper which likened Turkey’s Afrin operation in Syria to Ankara’s occupation of the north.
Incensed by the article, Erdogan had called “on my brothers in north Cyprus to give the necessary response”.
His supporters had attacked Afrika’s offices and protested in front of the Turkish Cypriot ‘parliament’ on Monday morning.
Holding Turkish and ‘TRNC’ flags, demonstrators chanted slogans in support of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, against the editor of the newspaper Sener Levent and against the left-wing, pro-solution Republican Turkish Party (CTP) lawmaker Dogus Derya.
Some in the crowd threw stones and eggs at the building, breaking windows and tried to enter the newspaper, forcing those inside to barricade themselves in. Protesters could be seen climbing up to the balcony of the building and attempting to pull down the newspaper’s sign.
The representative from the north Cyprus branch of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party Mehmet Demirci, addressing the crowd, called on the newspaper to be shut down.
“We think this newspaper, which is always opposed to the motherland by making cowardly news, is not good for the TRNC. Only a Greek Cypriot newspaper could be so traitorous and cowardly,” Demirci said.
The crowds were dispersed by riot police, but they then made their way to the ‘parliament’ where ‘MPs’ were being sworn-in after the elections earlier this month. Two men managed to climb on top of the building from which they waved Turkish flags and a flag frequently waved at rallies by supporters of Turkey’s nationalist Good Party.
Turkey opened a new front in the Syrian conflict on Saturday by launching an operation it says is to clear the Kurdish People’s Protection Unit (YPG) fighters from the Afrin area, to secure Turkey’s borders and ensure the return of refugees.
Ankara considers the YPG a terrorist organisation with ties to Kurdish militant separatists within Turkey, and it has been infuriated by US support for the fighters. Washington, which is backing the YPG in the battle against Islamic State in Syria, said on Sunday it was concerned about the situation.
Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci turned up at the demonstration, but was reportedly booed away by the crowd. He had earlier in the day said he did not approve of Afrika’s report on Sunday but warned “one shouldn’t provoke, incite and carry out open demonstrations,” citing freedom of expression.
Akinci expressed his support for Turkey’s military intervention in Afrin saying Ankara had “a right to take precautions now in order to prevent further bloodshed in the future”.
CTP’s Derya was heckled during her swearing-in by Nationalist Unity Party lawmakers and observers. Following her swearing in she shouted “shoulder to shoulder against fascism”.
While almost all political parties have expressed some level of support for Turkey’s incursion into Afrin in northern Syria, Derya said through social media on Sunday “those sustained in power with blood won’t be able to bring about peace”, provoking the ire of some in the north.
CTP leader Tufan Erhurman called on the authorities to take the necessary precautions given the situation and for everyone in society to help overcome the tensions.
“It is not possible to accept today’s lack of security, violence and attempts at lynching,” he said on this personal Facebook profile. “These tensions will not gain us anything. We will all lose.”
Leader of the new People’s Party (HP) Kudret Ozersay, while disagreeing with Afrika’s report, condemned the demonstrations.
“The violent actions of today cannot be accepted and go against all logic, the rule of law and is an attack on the freedom of press. No one has the right to act this way,” he said.
The demonstrations overshadowed the ongoing coalition talks between parties in the north and threatened to derail a possible deal between the CTP, HP, Democratic Party and the Communal Democracy Party.
Afrika last month celebrated 20 years of circulation. The daily which is regularly condemned by Ankara and many Turkish Cypriots used to be called Avrupa (Europe).
It changed its name to highlight the lack of press freedom in the north, alluding to the corrupt and despotic regimes of Africa, according to Sigma Live.
The paper most recently came under fire for publishing a cartoon depicting a Greek statue urinating on the head of Erdogan. The image was originally published in a Greek newspaper.
Cyprus’ government on Monday appealed to the United Nations and the permanent members of the Security Council to take action to protect journalists and the freedom of press in the north.
The Republic’s foreign ministry said in a statement it would also raise the issue with the relevant European institutions.
“This incitement to violence on the part of the Turkish president, is yet another proof of Mr Erdogan’s policy to consolidate Turkey’s authoritarian policies in the Turkish occupied part of Cyprus, including restrictions on freedom of expression and freedom of the press.”