Police removed roadblocks as tens of thousands of flag-waving secularists marched to the mausoleum of Turkey's founder following clashes outside the parliament building in Ankara where Ataturk declared the republic, CNN-Turk television said. 

"Some policemen kicked youths who only wanted to unfurl Turkish flags," Kemal Kilicdaroglu, head of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), told CNN-Turk. "It is very sad. How can a government that is against the republic call itself the government of the republic?"

Thousands of people holding national flags gather at the Ataturk mausoleum to celebrate Republic Day and demand the government uphold secular traditions. Photo: AFP

Marchers were reacting to the Islamic-rooted government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which they accuse of raising the profile of Islam in predominantly Muslim and officially secular Turkey. The government has recently allowed Koran courses in schools while lifting the ban on graduates of imam and preacher schools to become military cadets.

The crowd included supporters of the CHP as well as smaller opposition parties and more than 40 non-governmental organisations that shunned official celebrations at a nearby stadium, CNN-Turk said. Mr Erdogan invited people to join celebrations at a stadium in Ankara while cabinet members accused the opposition party of attempting to divide the public.