Turkey’s embattled prime minister lashed out at international media on Tuesday, accusing news outlets of stirring unrest during the one-year anniversary of mass anti-government protests.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan singled out CNN International, whose reporter was arrested live on air last Saturday while covering street clashes, accusing the network of spying.
“International media organizations who came to Istanbul for provocative and exaggerated broadcasts were left empty-handed,” Erdogan told members of his ruling AKP party in an apparent reference to the incident.
On Saturday, police violently dispersed demonstrators in Istanbul and Ankara as they marked a year since the start of nationwide protests denouncing Erdogan’s authoritarian rule.
Riot police fired tear gas and water cannon at protesters on Istanbul’s side streets to prevent them reaching the city’s iconic Taksim Square, the epicenter of last year’s uprising.
Over 70 people were arrested and 11 were injured during the demonstrations, Turkey’s Human Rights Association (İHD) said according to Turkish daily Hurriyet.
News outlets were also targeted, with Turkish police briefly detaining a CNN team in the middle of a broadcast from the square.
“Turkish police released [the] CNN team after half an hour. [An] officer apologized for another officer who kneed me while I was being detained,” CNN’s Ivan Watson said on Twitter.
On Tuesday, Erdogan called Watson a “lackey” who had been “caught red-handed” trying to bring chaos to Turkey.
“[CNN] doesn’t care about a free, impartial and independent press. They are assigned to work like spies,” Erdogan said.
Last year’s wave of protests was sparked by government plans to uproot trees at Istanbul’s central Gezi Park and erect a shopping mall on the site.
Erdogan has frequently accused foreign media of dishonesty in covering the three weeks of unrest that left at least eight people dead and thousands injured.
He has branded demonstrators “extremists” and “looters” seeking to derail his government’s economic achievements over the last decade.
The premier on Tuesday praised the “firm stance” taken by Turkish police towards the latest protests.
The crackdown drew criticism from the European Union, which Turkey seeks to join.
“The right to peaceful assembly is a fundamental right and has to be respected,” a spokesman for EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule told AFP.
“Any country negotiating EU accession needs to guarantee human rights, including freedom of assembly and association for its citizens,” he said.