Protests escalate against Turkish PM

Erdogan vows to press ahead with plans to redevelop Taksim Square in Istanbul

Anti-government protesters shout slogans and wave Turkey’s national flags during a demonstration in central Ankara. Photograph: Umit Bektas/Reuters.

Anti-government protesters shout slogans and wave Turkey’s national flags during a demonstration in central Ankara. Photograph: Umit Bektas/Reuters.

 

Turkey’s prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan faces further protests calling for his resignation today after he vowed to press ahead with controversial plans for the redevelopment of an Istanbul park which prompted a week of unrest across the country.

Three people have been killed in demonstrations that grew in number and scale across Turkey after police in Istanbul were accused of brutal tactics while attempting to break up initial protests last week. Some 4,300 people have been injured or sought medical care for the effects of tear gas, according to the Turkish Human Rights Foundation.

Earlier this week Mr Erdogan was accused of escalating the crisis – the greatest challenge he has faced as prime minister – when he denounced the protesters as ideologically-driven extremists and looters.

In an attempt to defuse tensions, Turkey’s president Abdullah Gul and other officials sought to adopt a more conciliatory tone while Mr Erdogan was on an official visit to north Africa. Mr Erdogan’s deputy met with protesters and apologised for the heavy-handed police response.


Leaderless movement
Some within the leaderless protest movement – a diverse mix of nationalists, leftists, environmentalists and secularists but relatively few from the religiously conservative milieu from which Mr Erdogan’s AK Party draws much of its support – demand that Erdogan apologise for the crackdown and punish those who ordered it. Others want him to resign.

Erdogan’s comments during his trip to Tunisia yesterday threaten to further inflame the situation. While professing “love and respect” for protesters with environmental concerns, he said “terror groups”, including an outlawed left-wing Turkish organisation that claimed responsibility for a February bombing at the US embassy in Ankara, were manipulating the crowds. “If you say: ‘I will hold a meeting and burn and destroy’, we will not allow that,” he said in Tunis. “We are against the majority dominating the minority and we cannot tolerate the opposite.”

Investors appeared disappointed as Mr Erdogan spoke, with Turkey’s main stock exchange dropping as much as 8per cent on fears that unrest would hit the economy.

At Taksim Square, next to the disputed park, protesters remained defiant. “We are not going anywhere,” said Cetin, a PhD student from Istanbul. “Erdogan is trying to smear what is in fact a very popular movement against his policies.”


Unions converge
Last night thousands returned to Taksim, including a large group of university lecturers who carried protest banners and chanted “Don’t touch my students” – a reference to the youth who dominated the early demonstrations and were teargassed by police.

In previous days, members of Turkey’s largest unions have converged on Taksim to support the protests. Last night speakers urged people across the country to come out on the streets. “Make some noise, make sure Erdogan hears you,” yelled one woman.

Turkey’s interior minister Muammer Guler insisted yesterday that allegations of police abuses were being investigated. He said more than 500 police officers had been injured after some 740 protests had erupted in 78 cities and towns, causing some 70 million Turkish lira ($37 million) in damages. Officials said a total of seven foreign nationals were detained during the protests, including two Iranians, two French nationals, and one person each from the US, Greece and Germany.

Mr Erdogan’s first engagement today following his return to Turkey last night is a conference in Istanbul organised by the Turkish ministry for EU affairs. The EU commissioner for enlargement Stefan Füle is due to attend. EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton has said she “regretted the disproportionate use of force” by Turkish police.