EU worried by violence in Turkey, calls for inquiries

BRUSSELS Wed Jun 12, 2013 2:31pm EDT

Riot police blocks a main road during clashes in Ankara late June 11, 2013. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

Riot police blocks a main road during clashes in Ankara late June 11, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Umit Bektas

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BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union expressed concern on Wednesday about Turkish government action to clear Istanbul's Taksim Square of protesters overnight, when police fired tear gas into a crowd of thousands.

Top EU officials also called on Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's government to investigate cases of excessive use of force and to hold those responsible to account.

Riot police used tear gas and water cannon on people in office clothes and families with children, as well as youths in masks who had fought skirmishes for control of the central Istanbul square.

"I followed the events last night with growing concern," the EU's chief for enlargement, Stefan Fuele, said in a speech at the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

Fuele, who oversees the EU's accession negotiations with Turkey, said the government should pursue dialogue with demonstrators after almost two weeks of protests against Erdogan. "Any approach based on confrontation and division is a source of even more serious concern, not only for Turkish society, but also for the European Union," he said.

Turkey's EU talks have ground to a halt in recent years, partly because of opposition from France and an intractable dispute between Ankara and Cyprus.

Fuele urged EU governments reluctant to see progress in the talks to allow the process to speed up. "Considering current events and the importance we all attach to supporting Turkey in its reforms, it would in particular be important to overcome the existing blockages on the EU side," he said.

Under President Francois Hollande, France has softened its opposition and Turkey is expected to make some progress in talks later this month.

Addressing the same session of the European Parliament, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton also urged Turkey to investigate cases of excessive force during the Istanbul demonstrations "swiftly and thoroughly".

"We have seen too many examples of excessive police force over the past two weeks - close range use of tear gas, water cannons, pepper spray, plastic bullets - against protesters who have been overwhelmingly peaceful," she said. "Those responsible (must be) held accountable."

(Reporting by Justyna Pawlak; editing by David Stamp)

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