Turkey’s minister for EU affairs, Egemen Bagis, rejects EU criticism of crackdown on nationwide protests

Demonstrations have spread as a result of anger sparked by police use of force in dealing with a protest in Istanbul last month

The Turkish Minister for EU Affairs Egemen Bagis. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh/The Irish Times

The Turkish Minister for EU Affairs Egemen Bagis. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh/The Irish Times

Wed, Jun 12, 2013, 11:45

Turkey’s minister for EU affairs has rejected EU criticism of his government’s harsh crackdown on nationwide protests and claimed the demonstrations are linked to “interest lobbies” wishing to profit from instability in the country.

Egemen Bagis, Turkey’s chief negotiator in the EU accession process, told The Irish Times he was unhappy with what he described as the “high-handed actions” of EU enlargement commissioner Stefan Fule at a conference in Istanbul last week.

Mr Fule told an audience that included Turkey’s prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan that people in democratic societies had the right to hold peaceful protests and that police brutality was unacceptable. “The duty of all of us, EU members as much as those countries that wish to become one, is to aspire to the highest possible democratic standards and practices,” he added.

Mr Bagis claimed protests in Europe had been dealt with in an “even harsher” manner. “Turkey needs no lesson on how to conduct her interior, or for that matter, exterior affairs. I can right now, off the top of my head, give examples of the disproportionate use of force by security forces in European riots.”

Protests spread
Demonstrations have spread across Turkey as a result of anger sparked by police use of force in dealing with a small environmental protest in Istanbul on May 31st. Four people – three protesters and a police officer – have been killed and thousands injured. Yesterday police used tear gas and water cannon to disperse protesters in Istanbul’s Taksim Square, the epicentre of the demonstrations.

Mr Bagis said the disproportionate use of force by police in dealing with the initial protest was being investigated. He added that the authorities had failed to properly explain controversial plans for a development project in Taksim, which triggered that protest.

“We accept that had the project been explained thoroughly, not leaving any room for uncertainty about the future of the trees, maybe all of this could have been avoided,” he said. “Having said that, I do believe that there are some elements to the protests that are ill-mannered. There are some who will stop at nothing to undermine a government selected by 50 per cent of voters because it does not suit their ideology. They provoke vandalism and harm the security of people as well as attacking properties. These are the factions condemned by our government.”

Mr Bagis claimed the protests were connected to forces that want to prevent Turkey’s rise. “Turkey is not wanted as a regional power by many. Turkey’s rise has given reason for many countries to become anxious as Turkey’s prominence means peace, prosperity and stability in the Middle East.”

He said his government believed there were “strong links between the protests and national and international pressure groups” wishing to profit from instability in Turkey. “Turkey is not a chessboard wealthy trust fund owners and banking magnates can play games on,” Mr Bagis added.

He claimed elements seeking to jeopardise his government’s peace process with Kurdish separatists, the PKK, were involved. “Clearly Turkey stepped on someone’s toes when we ended the PKK terror.” Some protesters accuse the ruling AK Party of pandering to its religiously conservative base, leaving more secular and liberal sections of the population feeling disenfranchised. Mr Bagis defended his government’s democratic credentials and insisted it was “the government of all of Turkey, not just those who have voted for us”.

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