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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 12 December 2018

Profile: Kemal Kilicdaroglu

The Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader is being compared to Mahatma Gandhi and the Indian politician's marches against British colonial rule

Turkish opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu of the Republican People's Party (CHP) greets supporters during a rally to mark the end of his 25-day protest march from Ankara to Istanbul on July 9, 2017. Umit Bektas / Reuters
Turkish opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu of the Republican People's Party (CHP) greets supporters during a rally to mark the end of his 25-day protest march from Ankara to Istanbul on July 9, 2017. Umit Bektas / Reuters

Kemal Kilicdaroglu was once viewed as a rather ineffective leader of Turkey's main opposition, powerless against Recep Tayyip Erdogan's domination of the country's politics.

But the Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader is being compared to Mahatma Gandhi and the Indian politician's marches against British colonial rule

The Gandhi moniker came about long before Mr Kilicdaroglu decided last month he would walk the 450 kilomteres from the capital Ankara to Istanbul to protest against Mr Erdogan's crackdown after last year's failed coup. His resemblance to the Indian leader made it an obvious nickname when he was elected in 2010 as leader of the secular party founded by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

The 68-year-old was a career civil servant heading for retirement when he decided to enter politics. His critics accuse him of failing to take advantage of the anger building over Mr Erdogan's increasingly authoritarian rule. The CHP has failed to win more than 25 per cent of the vote in subsequent elections.

But the arrest of Enis Berberoglu, an MP from his party, seems to have flicked a switch inside Mr Kilicdaroglu.

As the march ended in Istanbul, the opposition leader called on Mr Erdogan to end the country's state of emergency.

"The era we live in is a dictatorship," Mr Kilicdaroglu said.

Time will tell whether his decision to finally put his head above the parapet will lead to any loosening of Mr Erdogan's grip on power.