Thousands protest Turkish stray dog cull plan

Stray dogs in Turkey number in the millions (Yasin AKGUL)
Stray dogs in Turkey number in the millions (Yasin AKGUL)

Thousands of protesters rallied in Istanbul Sunday in outrage at the Turkish government's proposals to put down stray dogs, yelling: "No to the massacre!"

Bearing photographs of imploring puppy-dog eyes on their T-shirts and placards, demonstrators rallied on Yenikapi square on the European side of the city.

The government has drawn up legislation to capture and sterilise strays, before putting them down if they are not adopted within 30 days.

"This is not good for animals. It is a murder law," one demonstrator, Sule Giritlioglu, a 27-year-old engineer, told AFP.

"We think the cats will be next."

The governing AKP party under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says the reform is needed to curb the number of stray dogs in the country and stop them attacking people.

Officials indicate there are four million stray dogs in Turkey.

It is classified as a "high-risk" country for rabies by the World Health Organization.

The government says dogs caused 3,544 road accidents over the past five years, killing 55 people and injuring more than 5,000.

"We have a problem with stray dogs that does not exist in any developed country," Erdogan said last week.

Haydar Ozkan, vice-president of the country's Animal Rights Federation, argued in the Gazete Duvar media outlet that the government should instead prioritise effective sterilisation and animal shelters.

Numerous cases of accidents and attacks involving dogs have circulated on social media in recent months.

Another protester, Emre Onuk, said the law was a case of "bad propaganda" launched just before municipal elections on March 31.

Erdogan lost Istanbul and Ankara to the opposition in the vote.

Onuk, a 42-year-old engineer, judged the president was now seeking to "reconsolidate his power" by trying to "divide people".