Turkish premier brands protesters extremists

Anti-government protesters behind barricades and a excavator clash with riot police as they try to march to the office of Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul early June 3. Credit: Reuters
Anti-government protesters behind barricades and an excavator clash with riot police during a march on the office of Turkey’s Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul on Monday.
Credit: Reuters

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan accused anti-government protesters on Monday of walking “arm-in-arm with terrorism,” remarks that could further inflame public anger after three days of some of the most violent riots in decades.  

Hundreds of police and protesters have been injured since Friday in the riots, which began with a demonstration to halt construction in a park in an Istanbul square and grew into mass protests against what opponents call Erdogan’s authoritarianism.

 

He has dismissed the protests as the work of secularist enemies who never reconciled to the mandate of his Islamist AKP party, which has won three straight elections, overseen an economic boom and raised Turkey’s profile in the region.

“This is a protest organized by extremist elements,” Erdogan said at a news conference before departing on a trip to North Africa. “We will not give away anything to those who live arm in arm with terrorism.”

“Many things have happened in this country, they’ve hanged, they’ve poisoned, but we will walk towards the future with determination and through holding onto our values,” he added, an allusion to Turkey’s murky past of military coups and covert action by militant secularist forces.

The unrest has delivered a blow to Turkish financial markets that have thrived under Erdogan. Shares fell more than six percent and the lira fell to 16-month lows.

Erdogan said the protesters had no support in the general population and he gave no indication he was preparing any concessions.

Protesters accuse Erdogan of furthering a hidden Islamist agenda in a country with a secularist constitution. Some object to tightening restrictions on alcohol sales and other measures seen as religiously motivated. Others complain of the costs from Erdogan’s support of rebels in neighboring Syria’s civil war.

Still others have economic grievances, viewing the disputed development project in Istanbul’s Taksim Square as emblematic of wild greed among those who have benefited from Turkey’s boom.

Protesters gathered in Taksim again on Monday. Barricades of rubble hindered traffic along the Bosphorus waterway and blocked entry into the area. Leftist groups hung out red and black flags. Tear gas lingered in the warm, damp air.

Banners called on Erdogan to resign and declared: “Whatever happens, there is no going back.”

Nearby walls were plastered with cartoon posters of an image borrowed from a photograph of a policeman spraying tear gas at a young woman in a red summer dress, adopted as an emblem of aggressive police conduct. The caption read: “The more they spray, the bigger we get.”

Istanbul police kept a low profile on Monday morning and were not to be seen around the main gathering points at Taksim and the area of Besiktas. In the capital Ankara, however, police again fired tear gas again at protesters.

Erdogan appeared to reject accusations by the United States and the European Union, sensitive to Turkey’s strategic position on the edge of the Middle East and bordering Syria and Iraq, of heavy handed police action.

“We… are behaving in a very restrained way,” he said.

“Be calm, relax,” he advised the public. “All this will be overcome.”

‘Fuel to the fire’

The protests had appeared to ease off on Saturday night, but were re-ignited by defiant comments by Erdogan on Sunday afternoon describing the protesters as “a few looters” driven on by the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP).

“Rather than try to calm the situation…some of Mr Erdogan’s public statements about the protesters have added fuel to the fire,” Robert O’Daly, Turkey Analyst at The Economist Intelligence Unit, said. “Mr Erdogan appears to have underestimated the mood in the country.

“The absence of an effective opposition in parliament during the ten years that the AKP and Mr Erdogan have been in power has reduced the constraints on government. As a result, Mr Erdogan and his government appear out of touch, going ahead with pieces of legislation or in this case an urban development project without much consultation.”

The CHP said it was being used as a scapegoat for Erdogan’s failure to read the public mood.

“The people on the street across Turkey are not exclusively from the CHP, but form all ideologies and all parties,” senior CHP member Mehmet Akif Hamzacebi told Reuters. “What Erdogan has to do is not to blame CHP but draw the necessary lessons from what happened.”

Erdogan has given no indication he is preparing any concessions. Certainly, with his strong support, especially in the heartland of Anatolia, he seems for now safe in his post.

He said plans would go ahead to re-make Taksim Square, long a rallying point for demonstrations, including construction of a new mosque and the rebuilding of a replica Ottoman-era barracks.

Protests have involved a broad spectrum in dozens of cities, from students to professionals, trade unionists, Kurdish activists and hardline secularists who see Erdogan seeking to overthrow the secularist state set up by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in 1923 in the ruins of the Ottoman Empire.

Since taking office, Erdogan has dramatically cut back the power of the army, which ousted four governments in the second half of the 20th century and which hanged and jailed many, including a prime minister. In 1997 Turkey’s first Islamist government was eased from office by the military.

Hundreds of officers, including senior generals, have been jailed in the last year over an alleged coup plot against Erdogan and his AK Party. Journalists, artists and businessmen have also been locked up.

Erdogan remains far and away the most popular politician, and pointed to his electoral mandate, won since 2002 on the virtual ruin of traditional parties mired in corruption and mismanagement scandals.

“The fact the AK Party has increased its votes at three elections in a row and has successfully won two referendums, shows how the people of this nation have embraced the AK Party,” he said.

Turkey remains in many ways a country divided into a more conservative religious heartland and a liberal elite wary of religious inroads. They view with particular suspicion Erdogan’s moves to end restrictions on the Islamic headscarf, increase restrictions on alcohol and his enthusiastic advocacy of a huge new mosque to be built on the banks of the Bosphorus.


News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
Local

Florida man tied to Aaron Hernandez charged with…

Oscar Hernandez, a man tied to former New England Patriots Player Aaron Hernandez, was arrested Wednesday evening in Florida on federal charges out of Boston for obstruction of justice, witness…

International

Putin fields question from NSA fugitive Edward Snowden

Edward Snowden, the fugitive former U.S. spy agency contractor who leaked details of intelligence eavesdropping, asked Russian President Vladimir Putin a question on Thursday during…

Local

Crews battle fires in Dorchester, Cambridge overnight

Fires ripped through homes in Dorchester and Cambridge overnight causing injuries and displacing scores of residents.

Local

Boston hospitals apply lessons learned in Marathon bombings

The bombs at last year's Boston Marathon showcased the city's medical talent but also taught valuable lessons in responding to a mass disaster.

The Word

'Mrs. Doubtfire' sequel in the works

Finally, Hollywood is making your dreams come true - they're making that "Mrs. Doubtfire" sequel you've been clamoring for all these years.

The Word

Lawsuit accuses 'X-Men' director Bryan Singer of raping…

A new lawsuit accuses director Bryan Singer of sexual assault against a minor.

Movies

The Cannes Film Festival announces its 2014 lineup

The lineup of the 2014 Cannes Film Festival was announced this morning, promising the latest from a slew of usual (and some unusual) suspects.

Television

‘Survivor: Cagayan’ recap: Episode 8

Sure, it's called Survivor. But this season should really be called 'The Tony Show.'

NBA

Fantasy basketball: Finding next year's NBA studs

Before we put the 2013-14 fantasy basketball season to bed, it’s worth thinking about next year’s breakouts while they’re fresh in our mind.

MLB

MLB video highlights: Red Sox beat White Sox…

Red Sox walk 15 times in extra innings win

NBA

Kris Humphries on free agency, future with Celtics:…

Kris Humphries on free agency, future with Celtics: 'I hope to be back'

NBA

Celtics turn attention to NBA Draft, improve lottery…

Celtics turn attention to NBA Draft, improve lottery odds with loss

Parenting

How to parent without gender stereotypes in a…

Christia Spears Brown, Phd. author of "Parenting beyond Pink & Blue" gives advice on raising kids free of gender stereotypes.

Wellbeing

This Week in Health News: breastfed infants trying…

Are breastfed infants trying to prevent mom from having another baby? Theory: The act of breastfeeding not only brings mom and baby closer together –…

Wellbeing

This Week in Health: chocolate may prevent obesity…

Can chocolate prevent obesity and diabetes? Location of study: U.S. Study subjects: Mice Results: The positive health benefits of chocolate have been studied increasingly more…

Wellbeing

Unexplained infertility may be caused by lack of…

Researchers have identified a protein on the egg's surface that interacts with another protein on the surface of sperm, allowing the two cells to join.