Erdogan under fire for packed congress despite virus surge

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has come under criticism for holding his party’s congress inside a packed sports complex amid a new surge of COVID-19 cases

ANKARA, Turkey — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan came under criticism Wednesday for holding his party’s congress inside a packed sports complex amid a new surge of COVID-19 cases.

Thousands of ruling party supporters filled the stands of the 10,400-capacity complex in Ankara despite the Turkish government’s social distancing rules. Videos posted on social media purported to show busloads of ruling party supporters traveling to the capital to attend the congress, many of them without masks. Wearing masks in public spaces is mandatory in Turkey.

Erdogan has been criticized for holding similarly crowded local party congresses across the country in past weeks despite the pandemic. During one such event, he even boasted about the size of the crowd.

Turkey reported more than 26,000 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, weeks after the government eased restrictions in dozens of provinces under a so-called “controlled normalization” program.

On March 1, the government divided Turkey’s provinces into four risk categories and allowed restaurants and cafes to reopen in low, medium and high-risk areas. Weekend lockdowns were also eased in those provinces, although nighttime curfews introduced in late November remain in place across Turkey.