After 21 days on his feet, no one could blame Kamal Kilicdaroglu for wanting to wear sandals instead of marching boots. Yet the 68-year-old leader of Turkey’s largest opposition party apologizes to TIME for his casual footwear while on a break from his march for justice. His doctor has ordered him to keep his feet healthy. And after all, there are still more than 30 miles to go to Istanbul.
Kilicdaroglu is one of several thousand protestors walking from Turkey’s capital of Ankara to its largest city of Istanbul in protest of a widening political crackdown by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He has been joined by more than 10,000 fellow protesters who have been compared to terrorists by government officials. During a midday break in a clearing next to a gas station on the highway east of Istanbul, Kilicdaroglu makes apologies for his exposed toes, but none for irritating the government. “When the palace is unhappy, it makes us happy,” he says.
The march is a dramatic display of opposition to the unraveling of Turkey’s democracy under Erdogan. After he survived an aborted military coup attempt in July 2016, Erdogan moved to restrict political opponents, arresting journalists, activists, and about a dozen opposition members of parliament. In April, Erdogan also won a contested victory in a national referendum to expand the powers of his presidency in a historic transformation of the Turkish political system.
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