Turkish PM Erdogan calls for end to protests as clashes flare

ISTANBUL/ANKARA Sat Jun 1, 2013 5:56pm EDT

1 of 19. Demonstrators set up barricades as they clash with riot police during an anti-government protest at Taksim square in central Istanbul June 1, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Murad Sezer

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ISTANBUL/ANKARA (Reuters) - Protesters lit fires and scuffled with police in parts of Istanbul and Ankara early on Sunday, but the streets were generally quieter after two days of Turkey's fiercest anti-government demonstrations for years.

Hundreds of protesters set fires in the Tunali district of the capital Ankara, while riot police fired tear gas and pepper spray to hold back groups of stone-throwing youths near Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's office in Istanbul.

Istanbul's central Taksim Square, where the protests have been focused, was quieter after riot police pulled back their armored trucks late on Saturday.

Demonstrators lit bonfires among overturned vehicles, broken glass and rocks and played cat-and-mouse on side streets with riot police, who fired occasional volleys of tear gas.

The unrest was triggered by protests against government plans to build a replica Ottoman-era barracks to house shops or apartments in Taksim, long a venue for political protest. But it has widened into a broader show of defiance against Erdogan and his Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP).

Interior Minister Muammer Guler said on Saturday that 939 people had been arrested in more than 90 separate demonstrations around the country. More than 1,000 people have been injured in Istanbul and several hundred more in Ankara, according to medics.

The ferocity of the police response has shocked Turks, as well as tourists caught up in the unrest in one of the world's most visited destinations. It has drawn rebukes from the United States, European Union and international rights groups.

Helicopters have fired tear gas canisters into residential neighborhoods and police have used tear gas to try to smoke people out of buildings. Footage on YouTube showed one protester being hit by an armored police truck as it charged a barricade.

"All dictators use the same methods, oppressing their people," said Mehmet Haspinar, a 60-year-old retired government employee sheltering in a building entrance way as riot police fired pepper spray in an Ankara back street.

EUROPE'S FASTEST-GROWING ECONOMY

Erdogan has overseen a transformation in Turkey during his decade in power, turning its once crisis-prone economy into the fastest-growing in Europe.

He remains by far the country's most popular politician, but critics point to what they see as his authoritarianism and religiously conservative meddling in private lives in the secular republic. Some accuse him of behaving like a modern-day sultan.

Tighter restrictions on alcohol sales and warnings against public displays of affection in recent weeks have provoked protests. Concern that government policy is allowing Turkey to be dragged into the conflict in neighboring Syria by the West has also led to peaceful demonstrations.

"It's about democracy, and it's going to get bigger," said one demonstrator in a side street off Taksim Square, trying to rinse tear gas from his eyes.

Erdogan has called for an immediate end to the protests and has said his government will investigate claims that the police have used excessive force. But he remained defiant.

"If this is about holding meetings, if this is a social movement, where they gather 20, I will get up and gather 200,000 people. Where they gather 100,000, I will bring together one million from my party," he said in a televised speech.

He said the redevelopment of a park in Taksim was being used as an excuse for the unrest and warned the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) against stoking tensions.

In spite of Erdogan's focus on the CHP, the protests have involved a broad spectrum of people opposed to the prime minister and do not appear to have been organized by a single political party.

After the police withdrew from Taksim Square, supporters of Turkey's pro-Kurdish BDP party danced a Kurdish dance in celebration just yards from nationalists waving Turkish flags. They jointly chanted "shoulder to shoulder against fascism".

A group of soccer fans from fierce rival Istanbul clubs Fenerbache, Besiktas and Galatasaray joined the chant.

Protesters voiced anger at the limited coverage of the demonstrations by Turkish television stations, with many seeing government intimidation as to blame. Scores of journalists have been imprisoned during Erdogan's decade in power.

"Government crony media for sale" was written in graffiti over one television broadcast van abandoned in Taksim Square.

(Additional reporting by Daren Butler in Istanbul and Humeyra Pamuk in Ankara; Writing by Nick Tattersall; Editing by David Brunnstrom)

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Comments (36)
occupygezi wrote:
To democratic media agencies and democratic countries,

Occupygezi is a peaceful movement that has taken off in Istanbul to oppose its demolition as part of a redevelopment plan. A group of protestors have been under attack of police officers since Friday, May 31, 2013 with water cannons and tear gas in Istanbul (The New York Times, May 31, 2013). Occupygezi is a movement that is beyond protecting green recreational parks of Turkey. It is held not only in Istanbul but also in major cities (Ankara, Izmir etc.).
We, younger generation, are aware of these events through social media channels as the protestors who are injured and died in there are our friends. They are Turkish but most importantly they are human. This is a movement against the frequent violation of human rights by authorities in Turkey. This letter is intended to inform the world that government police is using excessive force towards unarmed protestors, which is against “human rights” in all languages and in all countries. The majority of media in Turkey do not inform any citizen either about the recent events in that park or the events in Reyhanli because of government pressure. Media and police are not acting on behalf of nation. Government suppressed the democratic, modern people of Turkey and currently police forces are acting incredibly brutal against young, old women, men and children. The events in Turkey screams for the attention of foreign media as Turkish media is not acting honestly. Therefore, it is world’s responsibility to spread the word, protect the innocent and to stand against this brutal police force. Turkey needs World’s awareness.

May 31, 2013 9:37pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
Reuters1945 wrote:
“Turkish police fire tear gas in worst protests in years”

The outside world is receiving mixed signals and mixed news reports coming out of Turkey.

Nevertheless, if one weighs all the evidence and considers the overall picture it would appear that this widely supported protest reflects perfectly reasonable grievances arising from a rather large cross section of the general population amid an educated Society.

With fewer and fewer open “green spaces” remaining it is reasonable that destroying one of the last such areas would provoke massive outrage.

When a government reaches a point where there is such a wide disconnect from the hopes, desires and opinions of the average man and woman in the street, then the stage is set for a major upheaval in the status quo. These green trees are but a symptom and not the cause, of such tremendous civil unrest.

Defending the trees is clearly a manifestation of a growing unrest with, and distrust of, a government which the people are quickly growing tired of due to being treated like second class citizens whose voice garners no respect from authorities.

When the legitimate aspirations of the general population are perceived as less important than those powerful business interests behind the demolishing of parks and trees in order to put up shopping malls and dept. stores, then one can well imagine we are facing a prescription for disaster.

This was how things started in Syria and due to the heavy handed over-reaction of government forces, employing brutal acts of repression, the situation rapidly escalated into a full scale armed rebellion.

The heartbreaking tragedy about Syria is that most people would agree that what began as a protest movement with specific and legitimate grievances, was quickly hijacked by “outside” and extremist forces causing the entire situation to spiral out of control.

It is impossible to tell yet, at this precise moment, if the protests in Turkey will spontaneously grow exponentially and explode out of all military control into a nation wide uprising.

Such a scenario could easily attract wide-spread support from the general population of whom many classes and vast numbers of people are highly educated and might well be psychologically ready and prepared to witness major changes in the way the Turkish government and local authorities operate.

The fact that the government has already over-reacted so violently and attempted to crush this short lived protest with such excessive brutality, does not bode well for the future.

The attempt to create a total lockdown and censorship of all news sources and media in general is both a clear indication that the government is afraid of its own people and simultaneously determined to defend the status quo of the present balance of power, at any cost, irrespective of how many Turkish citizens are killed and/or maimed in the process.

Whether these young protest movements are completely crushed by the authorities or they continue to grow and spread, the world has witnessed that the forces we have seen unleashed in so many other nations these past few years, involving the common human quest for freedom of thought, freedom of assembly and freedom of expression, are also alive and well in Turkish Society as well.

Whether forces outside of Turkey, with all their hidden agendas and ulterior motives, as we saw take place in neighboring Syria, will now try to capitalize on the present strife in Turkey by attempting to hijack the goals of the present protests, and use them for their own nefarious purposes, remains to be seen.

The people of Turkey must remain absolutely awake and vigilant at all times and make every effort to safeguard whatever precious freedoms they now possess, lest they be lost beyond retrieving, should their nation be devoured and consumed by the maniacal, blood-thirsty “dogs of war” as has been the tragic Fate of the long suffering people of ancient Syria.

May 31, 2013 10:12pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
Reuters1945 wrote:
“Turkish police fire tear gas in worst protests in years”

The outside world is receiving mixed signals and mixed news reports coming out of Turkey.

Nevertheless, if one weighs all the evidence and considers the overall picture it would appear that this widely supported protest reflects perfectly reasonable grievances arising from a rather large cross section of the general population amid an educated Society.

With fewer and fewer open “green spaces” remaining it is reasonable that destroying one of the last such areas would provoke massive outrage.

When a government reaches a point where there is such a wide disconnect from the hopes, desires and opinions of the average man and woman in the street, then the stage is set for a major upheaval in the status quo. These green trees are but a symptom and not the cause, of such tremendous civil unrest.

Defending the trees is clearly a manifestation of a growing unrest with, and distrust of, a government which the people are quickly growing tired of due to being treated like second class citizens whose voice garners no respect from authorities.

When the legitimate aspirations of the general population are perceived as less important than those powerful business interests behind the demolishing of parks and trees in order to put up shopping malls and dept. stores, then one can well imagine we are facing a prescription for disaster.

This was how things started in Syria and due to the heavy handed over-reaction of government forces, employing brutal acts of repression, the situation rapidly escalated into a full scale armed rebellion.

The heartbreaking tragedy about Syria is that most people would agree that what began as a protest movement with specific and legitimate grievances, was quickly hijacked by “outside” and extremist forces causing the entire situation to spiral out of control.

It is impossible to tell yet, at this precise moment, if the protests in Turkey will spontaneously grow exponentially and explode out of all military control into a nation wide uprising.

Such a scenario could easily attract wide-spread support from the general population of whom many classes and vast numbers of people are highly educated and might well be psychologically ready and prepared to witness major changes in the way the Turkish government and local authorities operate.

The fact that the government has already over-reacted so violently and attempted to crush this short lived protest with such excessive brutality, does not bode well for the future.

The attempt to create a total lockdown and censorship of all news sources and media in general is both a clear indication that the government is afraid of its own people and simultaneously determined to defend the status quo of the present balance of power, at any cost, irrespective of how many Turkish citizens are killed and/or maimed in the process.

Whether these young protest movements are completely crushed by the authorities or they continue to grow and spread, the world has witnessed that the forces we have seen unleashed in so many other nations these past few years, involving the common human quest for freedom of thought, freedom of assembly and freedom of expression, are also alive and well in Turkish Society as well.

Whether forces outside of Turkey, with all their hidden agendas and ulterior motives, as we saw take place in neighboring Syria, will now try to capitalize on the present strife in Turkey by attempting to hijack the goals of the present protests, and use them for their own nefarious purposes, remains to be seen.

The people of Turkey must remain absolutely awake and vigilant at all times and make every effort to safeguard whatever precious freedoms they now possess, lest they be lost beyond retrieving, should their nation be devoured and consumed by the maniacal, blood-thirsty “dogs of war” as has been the tragic Fate of the long suffering people of ancient Syria.

May 31, 2013 10:17pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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