Turkish PM takes hard line on protests

Erdogan blames international media and ‘interest-rate lobby’ for dissent

Turkish prime minister Tayyip Erdogan and his wife Emine wave to supporters as they arrive at a rally of ruling AK party in Istanbul yesterday.  Photograph: Reuters/Murad Sezer

Turkish prime minister Tayyip Erdogan and his wife Emine wave to supporters as they arrive at a rally of ruling AK party in Istanbul yesterday. Photograph: Reuters/Murad Sezer

Mon, Jun 17, 2013, 09:15

Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared Turkey a country united in a belligerent speech before hundreds of thousands of supporters in Istanbul.

Speaking in a district south of the city centre yesterday evening, Mr Erdogan blamed the global media and an unnamed “interest-rate lobby” for being behind protests that have gripped the country for more than two weeks.

“We know very well who sent 30,000 food boxes to Taksim,” he said and claimed some demonstrators are linked to terrorist organisations.

Violence escalated
His stirring public address – similar in style and substance to one delivered the previous day in Ankara – took place as violence escalated in the wake of police overrunning Gezi Park, a central Istanbul green space on Saturday night. Hundreds of protesters were forced off an area occupied since May 31st.

In the most violent incident since protests began, riot police cleared protesters from the park using tear gas and water cannons. More than 40 people were injured and 22, including several doctors, were detained by police.

Barriers and tents were torn down. Tear gas was directed at protesters seeking shelter inside the Divan Hotel located on the western edge of Taksim Square.

In Ankara, police clashed with demonstrators around Kizilay Square in the city centre yesterday after attempts to hold a ceremony commemorating the death of Ethem Sarisuluk, a protester who died last week after being hit by a tear gas canister earlier this month.

Government crackdown
Mr Erdogan has been the face of the government crackdown against the movement embraced not only by environmentalists attempting to save a city park, but a strata of Turkish society angered by the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) increasing encroachment on public life. Over the last number of years the AKP has jailed dozens of journalists and military officers. And in recent months it curbed the sale of alcohol and contraception. It has also encouraged women to bear at least three children.

Many Turks fear the AKP is gradually introducing a conservative way of life into a society that has been secular for 90 years.

During his address Mr Erdogan criticised the main opposition party for cracking down on religion during the 1940s and 1950s.

Emre, the owner of a restaurant at Kadikoy pier on the Asian side of Istanbul, said: “People have been forced to go to government rallies and support Erdogan by private companies. He controls the country’s media and business. This is how he can get so many people to go to his rallies.”

Turkey’s outspoken EU minister, Egemen Bagis, said his government would consider people remaining in Taksim Square and Gezi Park “as a supporter or member of the terror organisation”.

Activists have vowed to re-enter Taksim Square after it had been declared off limits. Turkish media reported that up to a thousand police officers had been brought from other provinces to central Istanbul in order to help quell the protests.

Last night demonstrators continued to battle riot police around Taksim Square and five big unions declared an indefinite strike in protest at the government’s crackdown.