Secular Turks Attack Erdogan for Alcohol Ban During Lockdown

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government banned sales of alcohol during a lockdown that begins Thursday, drawing the ire of opponents who say the Turkish leader is trying to force his Islamic values on the nation of 83 million people.

Alcohol sales at groceries and chain stores will be banned from April 29 until May 17, officials with direct knowledge of the Interior Ministry regulations said. The curbs are in line with existing weekend restrictions and prevent unfair competition against small liquor shops, which as retailers of non-essential goods will be barred from opening during the same period, the officials said, asking not to be identified.

“This restriction has got nothing to do with the pandemic. It’s completely ideological,” said Veli Agbaba, a CHP lawmaker. “And it’s the latest example of an attempt to interfere in people’s lifestyles” by the ruling AK Party.

The ban was the top trending item on Twitter in Turkey on Tuesday, with thousands of secular Turks using the hashtag #alkolumedokunma, or “don’t touch my alcohol.”

Other countries, including India and South Africa, have limited or stopped sales of alcohol at times during the global health emergency, saying the curbs were needed either to lower demands on overstretched health-care systems or ensure social distancing.

Erdogan announced a new set of restrictions on people’s movement on Monday, saying that the daily new case numbers should be immediately lowered to below 5,000 so that Turkey can reopen in tandem with the rest of Europe and attract tourists.

Authorities reported 37,312 new coronavirus cases and 353 deaths after the announcement, bringing the pandemic’s toll to 38,711.

The president has been condemned for holding dozens of party meetings at closed sports halls attended by tens of thousands of people from across the country, which health experts say contributed to the worst peak in the outbreak.