Erdogan says Gezi Park protest must end "immediately"

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A demonstrator writes slogans on a building painted with graffiti at Taksim square in Istanbul on 6 June 2013. (Photo: AFP -Aris Messinis)

Published Friday, June 7, 2013

Updated at 4:05pm Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan flew back to a Turkey rocked by days of anti-government unrest on Friday and declared before a sea of flag-waving supporters at Istanbul airport: "These protests must end immediately."

"No power but God can stop Turkey's rise," he told thousands who gathered in the early hours to greet him in the first pro-Erdogan rally since demonstrations began a week ago.

Supporters of Erdogan chanted "don't test our patience" and "Istanbul is here" and waved the Turkish flag – a white crescent moon and star on a red background – and the banner of the AKP, the image of a light bulb.

Speaking from an open-top bus at the airport, his wife at his side, Erdogan acknowledged police might have used excessive force in crushing a small demonstration against a building project last Friday – the action that triggered nationwide protests against his 10-year-old rule.

"However, no-one has the right to attack us through this. May God preserve our fraternity and unity. We will have nothing to do with fighting and vandalism...The secret to our success is not tension and polarization."

"The police are doing their duty. These protests, which have turned into vandalism and utter lawlessness must end immediately," Erdogan told the crowd.

He gave no indication of any immediate plans to remove the makeshift protest camps that have appeared on Taksim Square and Gezi Park in the capital, Ankara. But the gatherings mark a clear challenge to his declarations.

Turkey must investigate whether police used excessive force in a crackdown on days of anti-government demonstrations and hold those responsible to account, European Union enlargement commissioner Stefan Fuele said Friday.

"Peaceful demonstrations constitute a legitimate way for ... groups to express their views in a democratic society. Excessive use of force by police against these demonstrations has no place in such a democracy," Fuele said in a speech at a conference attended by Erdogan.

"I am happy that even the government admitted that. What is important now, is not only to launch a swift and transparent investigation but also to bring those responsible to account."

At Istanbul's Taksim Square, center of the protests now occupied by thousands around the clock, some chanted "Tayyip resign" as they watched a broadcast of the address. In the capital Ankara, the Kugulu Park echoed to anti-government slogans, while protesters danced or sang the national anthem.

Erdogan has no clear rivals inside the AKP or outside where the opposition, both on the streets and in parliament, is fragmented. But in his party there are those who counsel more measured public comments than those ventured by Erdogan, who has tended to apply blanket condemnation to the protesters, branding them looters or associating them with terrorists.

Critics of the prime minister say that he has become increasingly authoritarian and pursues by stealth an Islamist agenda challenging nine decades of state secularism – something Erdogan denies. They accuse him of arrogance born of three election victories, the last built on a 50 percent vote.

A protest that began with environmentalists resisting a plan to develop Taksim Square’ Gezi Park has ballooned to take in wide sectors of the population. Among the demonstrators are nationalists, leftists, students, unionists and middle class professionals who accuse Erdogan of adopting an authoritarian style of government.

The government claims militant leftists associated with terrorist attacks have also been involved in skirmishing with police that has spread to dozens of cities.

Six newspapers carried the same headline backing Erdogan on Friday: "We'll lay down our lives for democratic demands" – a comment he made to reporters in Tunisia.

The headlines are the latest instance of Turkish media coming under fire by activists, who blast what they see as inappropriate news coverage of the demonstrations.

The Leftist Sol's headline read: "The Deaf Sultan," accusing Erdogan of refusing to understand protesters' demands.

Whistle-blower and anti-army Taraf said "Erdogan is burning Turkey," while the liberal Vatan said "He doesn't give up."

At Taksim, the mood remained defiant.

"It's all up to Erdogan and what he says right now. He will decide the fate of this resistance, whether it will calm (down) or escalate," said Mehmet Polat, 42, a ship captain who has not worked all week, coming instead to protest at Taksim.

Police backed by armored vehicles and helicopters have clashed with groups of protesters night after night, while thousands of Erdogan's opponents have massed peacefully in Taksim, surrounded by barricades of torn-up paving stones and street signs.

The national doctors' union says 4,785 people have been injured, 43 of them seriously, and three killed as police have tried to quell the protests with tear gas, pepper spray and water cannon.

(Reuters, Al-Akhbar, AFP)

Comments

Recep Tayyip Erdogan is, himself, the 'menace' that he blames on Turkish Twitter users. We send our kudos to the brave Turkish social media protesters. See the tip of the obnoxious-Erdogan-iceberg for yourself at:
http://www.learningpracticalturkish.com/self.promoting.journalists.and.p...

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