Third person dies in Turkey in crackdown on Gezi Park protests

Turkish riot police clash with protesters on the way to Taksim Square in Istanbul on 5 June 2013, as part of ongoing protests against the ruling party, police brutality, and the destruction of Taksim park for a development project. (Photo: AFP - Bulent Kilic)

Published Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Updated at 5:00pm: A protester succumbed to his wounds in Ankara Wednesday, raising the death toll of violent clashes between police and demonstrators in Turkey to three people, Hurriyet Daily News reported.

The Turkish Medical Association said in a press conference that Ethem Sarisuluk had died after being wounded in the head during clashes with police, as an unprecedented wave of protest against Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan entered its sixth day.

The Turkish Medical Association has reported that at least 4,177 people have been injured, of which 42 were in serious condition and 10 had suffered from loss of vision. The government puts the figure at around 300.

The nationwide turmoil first erupted on Friday after police tear-gassed demonstrators at a peaceful rally against plans to build over Gezi Park in Istanbul's Taksim Square.

Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc met Wednesday with organizers of last Friday's demonstration against plans to build a replica Ottoman-era barracks on Gezi Park.

Members of the Taksim Solidarity group told reporters they had delivered their demands to the government, asking it to abandon plans to redevelop Gezi Park and to sack governors and police chiefs the group holds responsible for violence. Other demands included the release of arrested protesters, a halt to police use of teargas and the removal of obstacles to freedom of speech.

Arinc refuses to talk to unnamed groups he accuses of exploiting anger over police action against the original protest to foment broader violence.

The meeting was called a day after Arinc, in control of the government in Erdogan's absence, consulted President Abdullah Gul who has been more restrained in his comments on the protests than the prime minister.

Arinc apologized for "excessive violence" by police against the initial Taksim demonstration, comments which contrasted somewhat with Erdogan's defiant dismissal of the protesters as "looters" and comments linking some to "terrorism."

"I apologize to those who were subject to violence because of their sensitivity for the environment," he said, but added that his apology excluded "the rioters."

"The government has learned its lesson from what happened," he added. "We do not have the right and cannot afford to ignore people. Democracies cannot exist without opposition."

Police used tear gas and water cannon on demonstrators who ignored warnings to disperse in several major cities including Istanbul and Ankara late Tuesday night.

The new trouble flared after a second major trade union confederation announced it would join protests against the government, calling a strike for Wednesday.

Pro-government newspapers reported a softening of Ankara's line in the absence of Erdogan, who flew off on a state visit to north Africa on Monday night after a weekend of rioting critics said were inflamed by his denunciations of protesters.

"Olive Branch", declared Sabah newspaper in a banner front-page headline. "Softer Line", said Milliyet.

However, activists have slammed Turkish media for what they perceive as inaccurate or nonexistent news coverage of the demonstrations.

Union workers joined the protest movement on Wednesday, banging drums and trailing banners as they marched into Taksim Square.

Thousands gathered in the square for a sixth day early Wednesday, yelling defiance at Erdogan, who has dismissed the protesters as "extremists" and "vandals".

"The vandals are here! Where is Tayyip?" yelled the crowd.

Taksim’s makeshift camp is taking on the look of a more enduring settlement. Small tents have appeared, food and face masks are on sale and a library is in the making.

Gezi Park looters’ library

Skirmishes between the police and demonstrators still took place in streets near Taksim Square Wednesday, with police using tear gas.

Other demonstrations across the country showed their solidarity with the Gezi Park movement. Turkish Airline employees on strike staged mock security instructions while wearing Guy Fawkes masks.

Erdogan did not comment on domestic matters at a news conference in Algiers on Tuesday.

"The main concern for the moment is that the prime minister should hold his silence," said one diplomat close to the administration. "Whatever he says seems to stir feelings."

US Vice President Joe Biden, reflecting concern about stability in a NATO ally in the Middle East, urged the Turkish government to respect the rights of political opponents.

"Today's Turkey has a chance to demonstrate that there's no need to choose between economic advancement and democracy, the system that empowers the winners of elections and yet protects whose who are in opposition," Biden said.

The United States has long held Erdogan's Turkey as an example of an Islamist democracy to be imitated throughout the Middle East. But domestic opponents argue that, for all the economic advances under him and early democratic reform, events have recently taken a more authoritarian turn.

They also accuse him of pursuing an Islamist agenda by limiting alcohol sales, easing restrictions on the wearing of headscarves in state institutions, and promoting broader religious projects. Erdogan denies any ambition to undermine Turkey's secular constitution.

In the western port city of Izmir, police raided 38 addresses and detained 25 people on suspicion of stirring insurrection on social media with comments on the protest, opposition CHP party deputy Alaattin Yuksel told Reuters.

Police declined comment.

In a television interview this week, Erdogan described social media, including Twitter, as a "scourge."

Meanwhile, Erdogan’s office came under electronic attack Wednesday, as a group of hackers calling itself Anonymous Turkey said they had gained access to e-mail accounts of staff in Erdogan’s office. The group said their action was in solidarity with the Gezi Park protests.

Clashes spread overnight to the eastern province of Tunceli, where police fired tear gas and water cannon at hundreds of protesters who set up barricades and threw stones at them, witnesses said.

Police intervened in a similar way against demonstrators in the capital, Ankara, as well in Hatay province on the Syrian border where a 22-year-old man died after being hit in the head at a rally late on Monday.

(AFP, Reuters, Al-Akhbar)

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