Prime Minister Erdogan slams opposition as protests in Turkey continue

June 3, 2013 | By More

June 3, AP – In a televised speech on Sunday, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan responded to widespread discontent across Turkey – sparked by two days of violent clashes between police and demonstrators – by shifting blame to his political opponents for the unrest.

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Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan has shifted his tone during the third day of protests. Rejecting criticism from protesters, he said he was not a “dictator” and accused the opposition of fuelling anti-government sentiment.

“We think that the main opposition party which is making resistance calls on every street is provoking these protests,” Erdogan said, adding that they had manipulated a peaceful protest because they were “unable to beat [the government] at the ballot box.”

On Sunday, fewer people gathered in Istanbul’s Taksim Square – only several hundred, in contrast to tens of thousands the day prior – and police appeared to have retreated.

Ankara’s Kizilay district also saw diminished crowds. However, the news agency AFP reported that police fired tear gas and used water cannon to disperse those gathered there on Sunday.

‘Not a dictator’

An environmental demonstration in Istanbul against government plans that would  diminish the city’s green space quickly morphed into anti-government rallies on Friday and Saturday. Many chanted of “shoulder to shoulder against fascism” and “government resign” during a march to Taksim Square in Istanbul, where tens of thousands gathered over the weekend.

Erdogan, who has served as prime minister since 2003, rejected the depiction of his government as authoritarian.

“If they call someone who has served the people a ‘dictator,’ I have nothing to say,” Erdogan said. “My only concern has been to serve my country.” Critics have accused the prime minister’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) of moving away from Turkey’s secularist tradition toward more authoritarian policies rooted in Islam.

“This reaction is no longer about the ripping out 12 trees. This is based on ideology,” Erdogan said. “I am not going to seek the permission of the [the opposition] or a handful of plunderers,” he added, repeating his previous assertion that the government would proceed with the Taksim Square project.

Mass arrests

The weekend violence began when authorities in Istanbul raided Gezi Park in the city’s iconic Taksim Square early Friday morning. Demonstrators had been camping there in protest against government plans to use the site for commercial development, thus reducing the city’s green space.

The unrest soon spread across the country, sparking at least 90 separate demonstrations between Friday and Saturday. In Istanbul and Ankara in particular, police responded to the demonstrations with batons, tear gas, pepper spray, water cannons and relied on backing from armored vehicles and helicopters.

By Saturday evening, authorities had arrested nearly 1,000 people, according to Interior Minister Muammer Guler.

International leaders have criticized the government’s response as disproportionate. European Parliament President Martin Schulz called the crackdowns “completely inappropriate,” warning that the violent overreaction would only spark more protests.

Associated press coordinator for human rights observers – Norberto Lluch reports from the region.

 

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Category: European Crises

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