Turkey rules out early polls, thousands defy call to end protest

ISTANBUL Sat Jun 8, 2013 5:31pm EDT

1 of 14. A Turkish man gestures as he walks in front of a wall, spray-painted with anti-government graffiti, near Istanbul's Taksim square June 8, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Yannis Behrakis

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ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's AK Party on Saturday ruled out early elections as tens of thousands of anti-government demonstrators defied his call for an immediate end to protests.

Huseyin Celik, deputy chairman of the Justice and Development (AK) Party founded by Erdogan just over a decade ago, said local and presidential elections would be held next year as planned, and a general election in 2015.

"The government is running like clockwork. There is nothing that necessitates early elections," he told reporters after a meeting of the party's executive committee in Istanbul.

"The world is dealing with an economic crisis and things are going well in Turkey. Elections are not held because people are marching on the streets."

A few kilometres away, tens of thousands of Turks defied Erdogan's call on Friday for an immediate end to anti-government demonstrations, massing again in the central Taksim Square, where riot police backed by helicopters and armored vehicles first clashed with protesters a week ago.

Tourists and curious locals swelled their numbers around a makeshift protest camp in Gezi Park, a leafy corner of the square where activists have been sleeping in tents and vandalized buses, or wrapped in blankets under plane trees.

Senior AK officials said they had discussed calling a rally of their supporters in Istanbul or Ankara next week but no decision had yet been taken, with some party figures urging restraint for fear of provoking the situation on the streets.

What began as a campaign against government plans to build over the park spiraled into an unprecedented display of public anger over the perceived authoritarianism of Erdogan and his Islamist-rooted AK Party, leading to the worst riots in decades.

In a rare show of unity, thousands of fans from Istanbul's three main football clubs Besiktas, Galatasaray and Fenerbahce, who have helped organize some of the protests, marched on Taksim roaring "Tayyip resign!" and "Arm in arm against fascism!".

Police fired teargas and water cannon in the Kizilay district of central Ankara late on Saturday to try to disperse protesters blocking roads and burning bonfires in the streets.

There were similar scenes overnight in Istanbul's working-class Gazi neighborhood, which saw heavy clashes with police in the 1990s. Three people have been killed and close to 5,000 injured around the country since the violence began a week ago.

Thousands protested in Berlin, home to a large Turkish population, waving red Turkish flags and chanting "Occupy Gezi".

Erdogan has given no indication of plans to clear out Taksim, around which protesters have built dozens of barricades made of ripped up paving stones, street signs, vandalized vehicles and corrugated iron, clogging part of the city centre.

Police pulled back from the square days ago.

"Let them attack. They can't stop us," a member of the Turkish Communist Party shouted through loudspeakers to a cheering crowd from on top of a white van in the square.

Taksim is lined by luxury hotels that should be doing a roaring trade as the summer season starts in one of the world's most-visited cities. But a forced eviction might trigger a repeat of the clashes seen earlier in the week.


The gatherings mark a challenge to a leader whose authority is built upon three successive election victories. Erdogan takes the protests as a personal affront.

"Turkey is a democracy and it will prove its inner disposition in the face of these protests," German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle told Germany's Welt am Sonntag.

"Prime Minister Erdogan has a special responsibility to calm the situation and he has to be aware of that," he said.

Sources close to the AK Party speak of a sense of siege within the party leadership, with influential if disparate forces loath to break ranks publicly but worried about the extent of Erdogan's power and his uncompromising stance.

Erdogan has made little secret of his ambition to run for the presidency after his third term as prime minister comes to an end, although the AK Party could also change internal rules to allow him to stand for a fourth term.

Celik said the protests had been discussed "in detail" at Saturday's party meeting, but that the question of early elections had never been on the agenda.

"A government that doesn't have people's trust cannot be permanent. We got the message of the protests and we respect that, but there's nothing to respect about people throwing stones," he said.

Erdogan has made clear he has no intention of stepping aside - pointing to the AK Party's 50 percent of the vote in the last election - and has no clear rivals inside the party or out.

He has enacted many democratic reforms, taming a military that toppled four governments in four decades, starting entry talks with the European Union and forging peace talks with Kurdish rebels to end a three-decade-old war.

But in recent years, critics say his style, always forceful and emotional, has become authoritarian.

Media have come under pressure, opponents have been arrested over alleged coup plots, and moves such as restrictions on alcohol sales have unsettled secular middle-class Turks who are sensitive to any encroachment of religion on their daily lives.

"These protests are partly a result of his success in economic and social transformation. There's a new generation who doesn't want to be bullied by the prime minister and who is afraid their lifestyle is in danger," said Joost Lagendijk, a former European parliamentarian and Istanbul-based academic.

(Additional reporting by Parisa Hafezi in Ankara, Ece Toksabay in Istanbul, Stephen Brown and Michelle Martin in Berlin; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

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Comments (15)
kenradke11 wrote:
Erdogan the tyrant will probably be assasinated anytime soon so no worries!

Jun 07, 2013 8:45pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
RichCrawford wrote:
Erdogan has always been a highly controversial albeit successful figure even in his own party, but now he has many foes. The current president, Abdullah Gul, who won the first election and handed power over the Erdogan, is said to be reluctant to step down from the presidency. Gul is much more a polished article than Erdogan, studied at LSE and Exeter Universities and worked for the World Bank. He is the classic ‘Grey Turk’, while being religious is also cosmopolitan and sophisticated. He has recently come out and contradicted the Premier over the demonstrations and the meaning of democracy.

Secondly, Fetullah Gullen, a highly influential Muslim intellectual and head of the Gullen organisation – a bit like a Muslim version of Octopus Dei- has split from Erdogan. Some say this is due to Erdogan’s religious reforms in Education, which would steal some of Gullen’s educational market. It is said the police authorities are packed with his ‘graduates’, as against the secularism of the Army. Apparently, Gul and Gullen enjoy close relations but Erdogan has been removing his nominees from the government.

In the main, Erdogan still enjoys success with the less educated section of society and with the new men of the petty bourgeoisie, the ones whose education is not good enough to land them top jobs with international companies, but are being employed in local authorities and smaller firms.

As well, he is liked by the religious, for example those Bosniaks who fled Yugoslavia during the 1960s and after.

Those liberals and some leftists who favoured him at the time of the Referendum on the constitution in 2010, mainly in reaction to the excesses of the Kemalist golpistas in the 1980s and after, parted company long ago.

He has said that democracy is not his goal and more recently he told the King of Jordan that democracy for him was a bus and he would get off when his stop arrived!!

Jun 07, 2013 9:51pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
JapanViewer wrote:
The Turks are emboldened by the power of the people elsewhere in the Middle East to persevere and overthrow an autocratic government. But Turkey beware. What usually lies beyond is chaos and Islamic Fundamentalism. Turkey is NOT different. Turkey, a mostly Muslim country, with an Islamic government in power for some time now, has all the ingredients in place to turn into an Islamic Fundamentalist State. It’s almost providential. It’s as if Erdogan himself, with his push for Islamism and attacks on secularist freedoms, has laid the groundwork for his own demise and the demise of secular Turkey.

Jun 07, 2013 10:18pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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