Minister confirms claims over Istanbul mayor’s attendance at football derby

Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu has confirmed claims that he urged Ali Koc, chairman of Fenerbahce – a Turkish Super League football club – to prevent Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu from attending the Fenerbahce-Galatasaray derby on April 14, Diken news portal reported on Saturday.

Imamoglu, Istanbul’s newly-elected mayor from the main opposition secular Republican People’s Party (CHP), had attended a derby between Besiktas and Istanbul’s Basaksehir a day before, on April 13. Fans of the Besiktas football club sang “give the mandate to Imamoglu” during the derby, demanding the recognition of the electoral victory of the opposition.

The elected-mayor received his mandate 17 days after winning the local elections held on March 31, due to the ruling AK Party (AKP) appealing the results in Istanbul.

After attending the Fenerbahce-Galatasaray derby on April 14, Imamoglu spoke to the press, saying that the Fenerbahce and Besiktas chairmen had been threatened over the phone and told not to allow him to attend the derby.

Following Imamoglu’s claim, Turkish media reported that it was Soylu who called Ali Koc, one of Turkey’s richest businessmen and the president of Fenerbahce, as a warning to the CHP mayor-elect.

After Koc conveyed Soylu’s warning to Imamoglu, the mayor-elect told Koc that Soylu himself should have called him if there was a serious situation, according to news reports.

During a TV program on Haberturk on Friday, Soylu confirmed Imamoglu’s claims and said that he called Koc to ask him to stop Imamoglu from showing up at the derby in Istanbul, due to a risk of unrest.

“He [Imamoglu] went to the Besiktas match and people insulted our president there [because of him],” Soylu said, adding that he received intelligence of possible unrest during the Fenerbahce-Galatasaray derby because of Imamoglu.

“So, I called Ali Koc and told him a problem might arise there, and that he is the host of the event. After Ali said that Imamoglu had told him, ‘have the minister call me himself if the situation is serious,’ I said to Ali: ‘We fulfilled our responsibility, let’s take some measures now [to avert possible unrest],” Soylu further stated.

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