Dozens held in Turkey, silent protester goes viral

ISTANBUL/ANKARA Tue Jun 18, 2013 4:40pm EDT

1 of 17. People stand in silence during a protest at Kugulu park in central Ankara June 18, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Dado Ruvic

Related Topics

ISTANBUL/ANKARA (Reuters) - A lone, silent vigil by a man in Istanbul inspired copycat protests on Tuesday, as police detained dozens of people across Turkey in an operation linked to three weeks of often violent demonstrations against Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan.

Overnight in Ankara, riot police used teargas and water cannon to disperse hundreds of people who had gathered in and around the government quarter of Kizilay.

But in stark contrast to the recent fierce clashes in several cities, hundreds of protesters merely stood in silence in Istanbul, inspired by a man who lit up social media by doing just that for eight hours in the city's Taksim Square on Monday.

"I am just an ordinary citizen of this country," Erdem Gunduz, dubbed the "Standing Man" on Twitter, told Hurriyet TV. "We want our voices to be heard."

As dusk fell on Tuesday, hundreds followed his lead, standing quietly and facing either a giant portrait of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of modern Turkey, or a phalanx of police officers keeping watch over the crowd a short distance away.

Interior Minister Muammer Guler said 62 people had been detained in Turkey's biggest city, Istanbul, and 23 in the capital, Ankara. The state broadcaster TRT said 13 had been held in Eskisehir.

Protests have frequently turned into clashes between police firing teargas and water cannon and masked demonstrators throwing bottles and other missiles, images that have dented Turkey's reputation for stability in a volatile Middle East.

Western countries have expressed concern about the police's handling of the protests against Erdogan, whose authority rests on three successive election victories, the last achieved with 50 percent support.

Critics accuse him of disregarding the half of the population who did not vote for him, and some say he has connived to subvert the secular constitution and create an order based on religious principles - something Erdogan denies.

SUPPORTS POLICE REACTION

The 59-year-old has struck a defiant tone throughout the unrest, which poses the greatest challenge to a 10-year rule marked by an economic boom and a drive to extend Turkey's influence beyond its frontiers.

"In the face of a comprehensive and systematic movement of violence, the police displayed an unprecedented democratic stance and successfully passed the test of democracy," he told members of his ruling AK Party in parliament.

"The police have been represented as using violence. Who used violence? All of the terrorists, the anarchists, the rioters," he said in a speech punctuated by loud cheers.

Officials have sought to distinguish between those they consider legitimate protesters and others described variously as "riff-raff" and "terrorists".

But Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), goaded the leader.

"The master of dictators was not even able to be an apprentice of democracy," he told party members. "We have a prime minister who has lost his dignity."

The unrest began as a small action by environmentalists opposed to government plans to build a replica Ottoman-era barracks on Gezi Park, one of the few green spaces in the center of the teeming city of Istanbul.

But it has broadened to a protest movement against what Erdogan's critics say is his domineering style and tendency to meddle in people's private lives - a tendency some opponents say is driven by Erdogan's Islamic faith.

LULL IN VIOLENCE

The violence, which has abated significantly since Istanbul saw some of the worst clashes so far on Saturday, has left four people dead, including one policeman, and about 7,500 injured, according to the Turkish Medical Association.

On Tuesday, Cem Oezdemir, the co-chair of Germany's opposition Greens party, who is of Turkish origin, joined the international chorus of condemnation of Erdogan's handling of the unrest.

"Erdogan will no longer be able to travel the world presenting himself as a reformer and a modernizer," he said in an interview published in the German newspaper Die Welt. "He won't be able to shake off the images of brutal violence."

Erdogan, who created his AK Party in 2001 from a mix of centrists and reformers as well as conservative religious elements, pursued radical social reforms in his first years in office, broadening ethnic Kurdish rights and curbing the power of an army that had toppled four governments in four decades.

Opponents argue that recent years have seen him returning to more conservative roots, though he remains almost unchallenged in Turkish politics and has launched a risky drive to negotiate an end to a three-decade-old Kurdish rebellion.

No rival to Erdogan has emerged on the streets or in parliament, but the unrest dented investor confidence, with the lira currency hitting near-two-year lows last week and 10-year bond yields topping 8 percent. Markets have since settled close to levels before the demonstrations began.

(Additional reporting by Gulsen Solaker and Jonathon Burch in Ankara, Ayla Jean Yackley and Can Sezer in Istanbul and Michelle Martin in Berlin; Writing by Mike Collett-White; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Robin Pomeroy)

FILED UNDER:
We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
Comments (13)
Dennis6900 wrote:
This could turn into another Syria, if that stupid Erdogan doesn’t rethink his position on this matter!!!
***Turkey could deploy army to quell protests***What,is he nuts? Learn from other countries in the region idiot.

Jun 18, 2013 2:49am EDT  --  Report as abuse
Balik wrote:
This is all taken out of context. I have listened to everything Prime Minister said this morning. He was referring to fact that these protests were not about trees or green space, instead it was about marginal groups and illegal terror organizations hijacking peaceful protests and using it for their benefits. In his speech to his party’s meeting he said if welfare of public concerned, police would use every possible democratic methods. If needed gendarmerie could be deployed to places where there is shortage of police. Gendarmerie is a branch in Turkish Armed Forces. One of its duties is to keep order, peace and police in rural parts of Turkey. Ministry of Interior Affairs also has the right under constitution to use gendarmerie or police to in both rural and urban parts of the country. Gendarmerie uses same tactics that police use in dealing with protests. Such as Water cannons, pepper gas and in intelligence gathering. To this affect gendarmereie is a branch of military that can be used to keep order in protests. Don’t forget how we have used military after 9/11 in many airports and parts of the country. This is the same idea with same solution.

Jun 18, 2013 6:33am EDT  --  Report as abuse
Obs wrote:
I think Erdogan is kidding himself to not think that he has a problem on his hands with these people. Instead of dialoging with them to find a peaceful solution, he has resorted to 20th century tactics of using violence to disperse people whose legitimate grievances he has failed to solve. How does he end this problem now? He is burning all the bridges he could have used to each out to these people.

Jun 18, 2013 8:34am EDT  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.

Full focus