Turkish police arrest dozens in raids on homes, newspapers

Erdogan vows to expand police powers as authorities target protesters in Istanbul and Ankara suspected of violence

Turkish police in Taksim Square, in Istanbul, Turkey, on Sunday, June 16, 2013. (Photo credit: AP/Vadim Ghirda)
Turkish police in Taksim Square, in Istanbul, Turkey, on Sunday, June 16, 2013. (Photo credit: AP/Vadim Ghirda)

Turkish news media reported Tuesday that police are carrying out raids and detaining people suspected of involvement in violence against police during a wave of anti-government protests.

According to Hurriyet Daily News, “anti-terror security teams” arrested several people in their homes as part of the latest government crackdown against dissenters. Nearly 200 people were detained by police on Tuesday, according to estimates by Hurriyet. Today’s Zaman quoted Interior Minister Muammer Güler saying 25 people were arrested in Ankara and 62 in Istanbul.

Part of the crackdown appeared to target newspapers, journalists and, Turkey’s NTV reported, left-wing groups. Authorities raided the Atılım Newspaper and Etkin News Agency in Istanbul, the paper reported. Today’s Zaman freelance reporter Rumey Sakiger was also among those arrested, according to tweets by coworkers.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling AKP has arrested dozens of journalists, generals, and other elites in the past six years, and the country sports the highest number of journalists behind bars.

By arresting protesters en masse, Erdogan aims “to strengthen the narrative of the protests being led by leftists and communists with terror ties, and instill fear into fringe participants in the protests — no one wants to be named in a possible witch hunt,” Turkey analyst Gabriel Mitchell told The Times of Israel.

Earlier, police detained a dozen people who stood still at Istanbul’s Taksim Square in a form of passive defiance against Erdogan’s authority after activists were ousted from a sit-in at a park over the weekend.

As police lauched Tuesday’s massive crackdown, a defiant Erdogan announced that he would take steps to increase police powers following weeks of mass anti-government protests.

One of the main impetuses behind the demonstrations, in which hundreds of thousands of Turks took part, was the disproportionate use of force by Turkish police against peaceful environmental protesters in Istanbul’s Gezi Park.

“Police responded [to peaceful demonstrations], as they have in many similar protests in recent months, with massive use of tear gas, pressurized water, physical violence and spraying pepper spray directly into the faces of protesters,” Turkish freelance reporter Igal Aciman told The Times of Israel.

Erdogan defended police officers’ actions, saying they had acted with restraint and within their “rights” during the recent clashes with protesters.

“We shall strengthen police … so that they have increased powers of intervention,” he said, adding that the use of tear gas against demonstrators was the police’s “natural right.”

The wave of anti-government protest that has swept through Turkey starting May 31 has shaken the country’s secular democracy.

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