EU urges Turkey to investigate use of force against protestors

Erdogan takes combative stand on return

Turkey’s prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (top) waves to supporters after arriving at Istanbul’s Ataturk airport early this morning. Mr Erdogan called on Turks on Friday to distance themselves from  protests and said accusations of  excessive use of police force during recent unrest were being investigated. Photograph: Osman Orsal/Reuters

Turkey’s prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (top) waves to supporters after arriving at Istanbul’s Ataturk airport early this morning. Mr Erdogan called on Turks on Friday to distance themselves from protests and said accusations of excessive use of police force during recent unrest were being investigated. Photograph: Osman Orsal/Reuters

 

Turkey must investigate whether police used excessive force in a crackdown on days of anti-government demonstrations and hold those responsible to account, European Union enlargement commissioner Stefan Fuele said today.

“Peaceful demonstrations constitute a legitimate way for ... groups to express their views in a democratic society. Excessive use of force by police against these demonstrations has no place in such a democracy,” Mr Fuele said in a speech at a conference attended by Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan.

“I am happy that even the government admitted that. What is important now, is not only to launch a swift and transparent investigation but also to bring those responsible to account,” he said

His comments come as Turkey’s prime minister took a combative stance on his return to the country early this morning, telling supporters that the nationwide protests must come to an end.

In the first extensive public show of support since anti-government protests erupted last week, more than 10,000 supporters cheered Recep Tayyip Erdogan with rapturous applause outside Istanbul’s international airport.

Despite earlier comments that suggested he could be softening his stand, Mr Erdogan delivered a fiery speech on his return from a four-day trip to North Africa.

“These protests that are bordering on illegality must come to an end as of now,” he said.

Tens of thousands of protesters have held demonstrations that have spread to dozens of cities across Turkey, sparked by the violent police reaction last Friday to what started out as a small protest against a plan to develop Istanbul’s central Taksim Square.

Since then, three people have died — two protesters and a policeman — and thousands have been wounded. One protester is on life support in a hospital in Ankara.

Vehement denial

Protesters from all walks of life have occupied Taksim Square and its park, objecting to what they say is Mr Erdogan’s increasingly autocratic and arrogant manner of governing — claims he vehemently denies.

His words were at times almost drowned out by his supporters. “God is Great,” they chanted, and soon moved on to slogans referring specifically to the protesters in Taksim Square.

“Let us go, let us smash them,” they shouted. “Istanbul is here, where are the looters?”

Mr Erdogan had initially referred to the protesters as looters and troublemakers, while also acknowledging that excessive police force might have been used, and promising it would be investigated.

On his return to Istanbul, his speech, delivered from atop an open-air bus outside the airport terminal, appeared at first to be an attempt to strike a unifying note.

“They say I am the prime minister of only 50 per cent. It’s not true. We have served the whole of the 76 million from the east to the west,” he said at the airport, referring to his election win in 2011, when he took 50 per cent of the vote.

“Together we are Turkey. Together we are brothers. We have never endeavoured to break hearts. We are in favour of mending hearts.”

But he soon became more combative.

“We have never been for building tension and polarisation. But we cannot applaud brutality,” he said.

In his last speech in Tunisia before flying to Istanbul, Mr Erdogan said identified terrorist groups were involved in the protests.

Dissent fanned

In a twist, he implied that bankers were also part of a conspiracy that was fuelling the protests. He added that the fans of dissent had been fanned by other groups too.

“Those who call themselves journalists, artists, politicians, have, in a very irresponsible way, opened the way for hatred, discrimination and provocation,” he said.

Speaking before Mr Erdogan’s return, Koray Caliskan, professor of political science and international relations at Bosporus University, pointed out that the prime minister was maintaining a hard line because “until now Erdogan had always gained support by increasing the tension in the country”.

“Turkey is absolutely at a crossroads. Erdogan won’t be able to point at Turkey as a model of democracy any more,” he said.

In his earlier comments in Tunisia, Mr Erdogan acknowledged that some Turks were involved in the protests out of environmental concerns, and said he had “love and respect” for them.

Turkey’s main stock market revealed the fears that Mr Erdogan’s comments would do little to defuse the protesters, with the general price index plunging by 8 per cent after his comments on concerns that continuing unrest would hit the country’s economy.

Over the past week the demonstrations have spread to 78 cities, growing into public venting of what protesters perceive to be Mr Erdogan’s increasing arrogance. That includes attempts to impose what many say are restrictive mores on their personal lives, such as how many children to have or whether to drink alcohol.

So far, 4,300 people have been hurt or sought medical attention for the effects of tear gas during the protests, the Turkish Human Rights Foundation said. One person is on life support in Ankara.

Interior minister Muammer Guler said more than 500 police officers had been injured. A total of 746 protests had erupted, causing some 70 million Turkish Lira (€30 million) in damages, he said. Nearly 80 protesters were still in hospital, and almost all detained protesters had been released.

Reuters/AP