ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday called on demonstrators to end anti-government protests now into a second day, but he remained defiant, insisting police would break down protests at a main Istanbul square and indicating that the government would press ahead with the redevelopment plans that sparked the demonstrations.
In a televised speech, Erdogan said police may have used tear gas excessively while confronting protesters and said this would be investigated.
Nevertheless, police let off more tear gas and pressurized water against protesters trying to reach a main square in Istanbul or the Parliament building in the capital, Ankara.
The protests grew out of anger at heavy-handed police tactics on Friday to break up a peaceful sit-in by people trying to protect a park in Istanbul’s main Taksim square from government plans to revamp the area. Officials have said include building a shopping mall and the reconstruction of a former Ottoman army barracks.
The park demonstration turned into a wider protest against Erdogan, who is seen as becoming increasingly authoritarian, and spread to other Turkish cities despite the court decision to temporarily halt the demolition of the park. A human rights group said hundreds of people were injured in scuffles with police that lasted through the night.
“Police were present in Taksim yesterday,” Erdogan said. “They will be present today and they will be present tomorrow too. Taksim cannot be a place where extremist groups run wild.”
He said the government was determined to revamp Taksim and rebuild the old army barracks but said no firm decision was made on building a shopping mall.
Erdogan, who is serving a third term in office after winning landslide elections, denounced the protests as illegimate and suggested he could easily summon 1 million people for a pro-government rally.
“All attempts apart from the ballot box are not democratic,” Erdogan said.
On Saturday, police clashed with several groups of youths trying to reach Taksim, the city’s main hub and shopping center. Some threw stones at police.
A few thousand people marched along the Bosporus Bridge from the Asian shore of the city, toward Taksim, on the European side, but were met with pressurized water and tear gas that filled the air in a thick cloud of smoke.
Police detained a group of protesters who ran into a hotel to shelter from the gas, the private Dogan news agency reported.
The leader of Turkey’s pro-secular, main opposition party called on Erdogan to immediately withdraw police from Taksim.
“Show us that you are the prime minister, pull back your police,” Kemal Kilicdaroglu said.
Ozturk Turkdogan, the head of the Turkish Human Rights Association, said hundreds of people in several cities were injured in the police crackdown and a few hundred people were arrested. The Dogan news agency said 81 demonstrators were detained in Istanbul.
The protest was seen as a demonstration of the anger had already been building toward Turkish police who have been accused of using inordinate force to quash demonstrations and of firing tear gas too abundantly, including at this year’s May Day rally.
There is also resentment from mainly pro-secular circles toward the prime minister’s Islamic-rooted government and toward Erdogan himself, who is known for his abrasive style. He is accused of adopting increasingly uncompromising stance and showing little tolerance of criticism.
In a surprise move last week, the government quickly passed legislation curbing the sale and advertising of alcoholic drinks, alarming secularists. Many felt insulted when he defended the legislation by calling people who drink “alcoholics.”
“The use of (tear) gas at such proportions is unacceptable,” Turkdogan told The Associated Press. “It is a danger to public health and as such is a crime. Unfortunately, there isn’t a prosecutor brave enough to stand up to police.”
“The people are standing up against Erdogan who is trying to monopolize power and is meddling in all aspects of life,” he said.
Thousands marched through streets in several cities on Friday, calling on Erdogan to resign. Cars honked and residents banged on pots and pans in a show of solidarity with protesters.
In the capital Ankara, thousands gathered at a small park and swelled into a popular shopping street. Many were seen drinking in the street protest of government restrictions on the sale and advertising of alcohol. Police broke up groups that tried to march toward the Parliament building, a few hundred meters (yards) away.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.
The Times of Israel covers one of the most complicated, and contentious, parts of the world. Determined to keep readers fully informed and enable them to form and flesh out their own opinions, The Times of Israel has gradually established itself as the leading source of independent and fair-minded journalism on Israel, the region and the Jewish world.
We've achieved this by investing ever-greater resources in our journalism while keeping all of the content on our site free.
Unlike many other news sites, we have not put up a paywall. But we would like to invite readers who can afford to do so, and for whom The Times of Israel has become important, to help support our journalism by joining The Times of Israel Community. Join now and for as little as $6 a month you can both help ensure our ongoing investment in quality journalism, and enjoy special status and benefits as a Times of Israel Community member.