Hundreds of thousands of flag-waving Turks rallied in support of the prime minister Sunday before next week's early general elections as other political parties also staged rallies in various parts of Istanbul.
They shouted slogans in support of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, is expected to win the biggest share of votes July 22.
Sunday's rally is also seen as a late response by the AKP to mass demonstrations by secular Turks who took to the streets earlier this year because of a conflict over who should be the next president.
In April and May, millions marched in major cities and demanded the resignation of Erdogan after he nominated his close ally, Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, for the presidency.
Gul, like Erdogan and most other AKP members, is associated with Turkey's Islamist movement.
"We didn't march on the streets back then because the tensions were already high and there could be fighting," said Esma Engin, a 26-year-old supporter of Erdogan who came to the rally hours before Erdogan was expected to speak to the crowd.
"We're children of the republic as well. We want to protect the secular republic too," Engin said.
Amid criticism from the opposition and mass demonstrations asking Erdogan to resign, the military, which has staged three coups since 1960, issued a statement late April, saying it could intervene in the presidential process.
Erdogan called for early general elections to defuse the political deadlock after the Parliament failed to elect Gul as the president in a session boycotted by the opposition.
"I'm not here to react to what happened to Gul," said Arif Sahin, a 24-year-old AKP follower.
"But still, I don't think Gul posed a threat to the regime. What happened to him, is not the kind of thing we should see in a democracy," Sahin said.
The Parliament passed a law in May that would make it possible to hold a referendum over whether the president should be elected by popular vote instead of by Parliament.
The main opposition party and the staunchly secular president appealed to the Constitutional Court to annul the law, but the top court overturned their request, siding with the government.
When Gul started his speech, the demonstrators chanted "Cankaya is yours and it will remain yours," referring to the Cankaya district in the Turkish capital where the presidential palace is located,
Güncelleme Tarihi: 16 Temmuz 2007, 02:02
"Cankaya doesn't belong to this or that. It belongs to the people," Gul replied to the crowd.
Sunday's rally was one of the most crowded election rallies during the campaign period this year. Dogan news agency reported people came to the rally by bus, trains and ferries.
Police set up checkpoints on roads leading to the field.
Separately, thousands gathered in different parts of Istanbul for election rallies by the Islamist Felicity Party and the leftist Labor Party, local media reported.