Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned Saturday that police would clamp down on anyone defying a ban on demonstrations at Istanbul’s Taksim Square on the anniversary of a wave of mass protests last year.
“If you go there, our security forces have received clear-cut instructions and will do whatever is necessary from A to Z,” Erdogan told thousands of supporters at an Istanbul rally.
“You will not be able to take to [Taksim] like you did last year because you are obliged to abide by the laws… If you do not, the state will do whatever is necessary for its security,” he said.
Taksim Solidarity, an umbrella group representing the protesters, had called on people from across Turkey to attend the demonstrations, adding that the government-imposed ban was a violation of the constitution, Today’s Zaman reported.
Earlier Saturday, Erdogan had called those mobilizing to mark the one year anniversary of the mass protests “terrorists.” Following a deadly police crackdown, the protests swelled into an outpouring of anger against the perceived authoritarian tendencies of the Islamic-rooted government.
Erdogan’s government deployed thousands of riot police and police in civilian clothes to enforce the ban on protests.
A CNN crew was briefly detained Saturday while trying to report from Taksim Square.
Turkish police detained me and my crew in the middle of a live report in Taksim Square. One officer kneed me in the butt.
— Ivan Watson (@IvanCNN) May 31, 2014
Erdogan on Friday urged young Turks to ignore the call to stage a protest to mark the anniversary of a movement that began last year as a neighborhood bid to save Gezi Park, adjacent to Taksim Square, from real estate developers.
“One year later, people, including so-called artists, are calling for demonstrations, but you, Turkey’s youth, you will not respond to the call,” Erdogan told a crowd of a thousand young people in Istanbul.
“These terrorist organisations manipulated our morally and financially weak youth to attack our unity and put our economy under threat,” Erdogan said.
Turkish media reported that around 25,000 police officers as well as dozens of water cannon trucks and armored vehicles would be deployed to Istanbul on Saturday to prevent demonstrators from reaching the square.
The opposition leader urged the authorities to let people peacefully protest.
“Let the young people protest as they want. They are peaceful, they can’t harm anyone. What will you achieve with all these bans,?” said Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP).
One year on, the political tensions stemming from the Gezi revolt continue to simmer despite a decisive ruling party victory in March 30 local elections that has boosted Erdogan’s ambitions to stand for president in August.
A succession of crises over the last 12 months — from a government corruption scandal implicating the premier and key allies to the mine tragedy that killed 301 workers earlier this month — have sparked renewed anger at Erdogan’s leadership.
Critics meanwhile accuse Erdogan of pressing ahead with controversial policies including muzzling the press, tightening the government’s sway over the judiciary and curbing the Internet.
“Turkish authorities have launched a witch-hunt against all those who have demonstrated or raised their voices,” charged Karim Lahidji, president of the International Federation for Human Rights.
Raising the tensions ahead of the anniversary, opposition supporters were mourning the loss of a 64-year-old who had fallen into a coma during a crackdown on protesters in December. She died this week at an Istanbul hospital.
A total of eight people died and thousands were wounded as a result of the crackdown on the protests, which turned into the largest challenge to Erdogan since his party came to power in 2002.