Defiant Erdogan issues deadline to protesters
Prime minister questions right of EU to rebuke Turkey over ‘disproportionate and excessive use of force’
A group of riot police officers are posted near Gezi Park in Istanbul on Thursday. Photograph: The New York Times
Turkey’s prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan remains defiant ahead of two planned pro-government rallies in Istanbul and Ankara this weekend.
Unwavering in his stance against demonstrators involved in anti-government protests that have swept across the country over the past two weeks, yesterday he gave protesters 24 hours to leave Taksim Square and Gezi Park in Istanbul.
“I am giving my final warning . . . the era of showdowns on the streets is completely over in Turkey,” he said.
Mr Erdogan and other Justice and Development Party (AKP) leaders also hit out at a European Parliament resolution that criticised “the disproportionate and excessive use of force by Turkish police”.
The prime minister questioned the EU’s place to rebuke Turkey for the police use of force and said he would not recognise the resolution. A statement posted on the website of Turkey’s ministry for foreign affairs also expressed anger with the European Parliament. Mr Erdogan said he believes riot police have a right to use tear gas to combat violent elements among the protesters.
The protest movement has rocked Turkey in the largest civil unrest the country has experienced for 10 years. It began on May 31st when riot police attempted to move demonstrators from Gezi Park – one of the last major green spaces in central Istanbul.
Since then, the protest movement has grown to attract Turks from various backgrounds unhappy with the government. Though the AKP government has modernised much of Turkey’s aging infrastructure – and last March succeeded in signing a ceasefire with the PKK, a Kurdish militant group, to end the 30-year conflict – its growing intrusion into public life has angered many secular Turks.
In Gezi Park yesterday, a sense of calm had returned following heavy clashes on Tuesday next door in Taksim Square. Protesters have taken to writing their blood types in marker on their arms in anticipation of another attempt by police to remove them.
A poll of Gezi Park demonstrators conducted by Istanbul-based Genar Research found 74 per cent voted for the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) in general elections in 2011, while only 1.2 per cent voted for Mr Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party.
The site of Saturday’s pro-government rally in Sincan, Ankara, is symbolic, being where a 1997 military coup against Necmettin Erbakan, Turkey’s then-Islamist-leaning prime minister, took place.
Meanwhile, a fifth protest-related death was reported. Ethem Sarisuluk (27) from Ankara is thought to have died after being hit by a tear gas canister on June 1st. However, general secretary of the Turkish Medical Association Dr Bayazit Ilhan told The Irish Times Mr Sarisuluk’s exact status is unclear.
“He is brain dead but the legal explanations from doctors are not known to us yet,” he said.
Over 5,000 people have been injured in protest-related violence since May 31st. Turkish authorities say 600 police officers have been hurt.