Erdogan: Constructions plans for park will take place despite protests

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Anti-government protesters demonstrate in central Ankara 5 June 2013. (Photo: AFP - Adem Altan)

Published Thursday, June 6, 2013

Updated at 4:05pm: In a speech i Tunisia Thursday, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan confirmed that Turkey would go ahead with gentrification plans for Istanbul's Taksim Square, despite the week-long protests surrounding the square and its park.

Erdogan claimed that "terrorists" were among the demonstrators, whom he had previously called "çapulcu" (looters), a term reclaimed by the protest movement. When asked about police brutality, Erdogan said that a previous apology by Turkey's deputy prime minister had covered the topic.

Erdogan's speech comes as Turkish news channel NTV reported the death of a Turkish police officer as a result of wounds incurred when he fell off a bridge while pursuing demonstrators in the southern town of Adana.

His death marks the first police casualty in the week of protests, which have left three civilians dead and more than 4,000 injured in a dozen cities.

Turkish police clashed with demonstrators overnight Thursday ahead of the return of Erdogan from a visit to North Africa. The prime minister faces demands that he apologize over the fierce police crackdown and sack those who ordered it.

Riot police fired tear gas at hundreds of demonstrators who responded by throwing stones and chanting anti-Erdogan slogans in the heart of the capital Ankara on Wednesday night, witnesses said.

In the eastern province of Tunceli, several hundred protesters set up a street barricade as police targeted them with water cannons. Istanbul, which has seen some of the heaviest clashes, was quiet overnight.

What began as a campaign against the redevelopment of Gezi Park in Istanbul has surged into an unprecedented show of defiance against the perceived authoritarianism of Erdogan and his Islamist-rooted AK Party.

Police backed by armored vehicles have fired tear gas and water cannon on stone-throwing protesters night after night, while thousands have massed peacefully in recent days on Taksim Square near Gezi Park, where the demonstrations first began.

Angered by the lack of coverage of Turkey's violent crisis in the country's mainstream media, Turks are mobilising via Twitter and Facebook, prompting police to arrest users they accuse of spreading subversion.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has dismissed Twitter as a "troublemaker" that "terrorizes society", ranking it along with the "extremists" he blames for the days of protests against his rule.

Officers arrested at least 25 people on Wednesday in the western city of Izmir, accusing them of tweeting "misinformation" – news that was in fact reported by local television channels.

Police were still searching for at least a dozen others for tweets the police said contained "misleading and libellous information", Anatolia news agency reported.

Turkish daily Radikal has reported that four foreign students were facing possible deportation over their participation in the protests.

The deportation operation begins now for Lorraine Klein, an Erasmus student at the Galatasaray University, after 36 hours in police custody

The prime minister left the country on Monday, dismissing the protesters as “looters” and vowing the unrest would be over in a matter of days, comments that his critics said further inflamed tensions.

AKP Deputy Chairman Huseyin Celik called on party members not to go to the airport to greet Erdogan on his return to avoid stirring trouble. Erdogan was expected to hold a news conference with his Tunisian counterpart before returning.

"Nobody should take it upon themselves to go and greet the prime minister in this situation. The prime minister does not need a show of strength," Celik said in a television interview.

In Taksim Square, protesters remained defiant.

"We have the momentum, with people like me going to work every day and coming back to attend the protests," said Cetin, a 29-year-old civil engineer who declined to give his surname because he works for a company close to the government.

"We should keep coming here to protest until we really feel we've achieved something," he said, one of thousands gathered on Taksim Square until late into the night.

"Everywhere is Taksim”
Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc, formally in charge while Erdogan is away, has apologized for the initial police crackdown on peaceful campaigners in Taksim's Gezi Park and meeting a delegation of protesters in his office in Ankara.

"The powers that be continue to counter with violence, pressure and prohibitionist policies ... demands which are being expressed in a peaceful and democratic manner," a spokesman for the delegation said after meeting Arinc.

"We demand the removal from duty of those who gave the order to inflict force ... starting with the governors and police chiefs of Istanbul, Ankara and Hatay," he told reporters, referring to the areas worst affected by violence.

A second trade union federation representing hundreds of thousands of workers joined the protests on Wednesday, its members banging drums, trailing banners and chanting "Tayyip resign" as they marched on Taksim.

Around Ankara's Kugulu Park, a middle class area dotted with restaurants and bars, people chanted "dictator resign" and "everywhere is Taksim, everywhere is resistance" into the night as residents on balconies banged pots and pans in support.

On Wednesday, a small group of people who read a statement in support of the protests were attacked by Erdogan supporters in the Black Sea city of Rize, a stronghold of the AKP, an attack that only ended after police intervened.

"Erdogan cannot backtrack now. It would mean defeat," said Ali Aydin, 38, a car dealer in the Tophane neighborhood of Istanbul, a conservative bastion in the mostly Bohemian district around Taksim Square. "Weakness would destroy the party."

(Reuters, Al-Akhbar, AFP)

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