About 20,000 people took to the streets here Saturday in support of tobacco industry workers who are locked in a bitter labour row with the government.
The protesters marched under close police scrutiny through central Ankara to a pedestrian area where hundreds of workers left jobless by the privatisation of state tobacco company Tekel have been camping since early December.
"The Tekel workers are not alone," "The working class will fight," read some of the placards brandished by demonstrators.The workers, who number some 12,000, have demanded they be transferred to other public jobs, preserving their existing rights, but the government has offered them only a status as seasonal workers with much lower salaries.
The row has grown into the most embarrassing labour movement for the ruling Justice and Development Party since it came to power in 2002 with promises to defend the rights of the working class and the poor.Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has given the workers until the end of the month to either accept the new status or face unemployment, threatening to send police to demolish their make-shift tent city in the heart of Ankara.
Thousands of public employees went on a one-day strike earlier this month in solidarity with the workers after reconciliation talks between the government and trade unions collapsed.