JNN 13 June 2013 Istanbul : The Turkish Prime Minister says protests at Taksim Square and Gezi Park “will be over in 24 hours.” This comes hours after Tayyip Erdogan met a group of activists, in an attempt to start dialog, and vowed to put an end to the gatherings.
“I have given orders to the interior minister,” Erdogan said. “This will be over in 24 hours.”
Earlier on Wednesday the Turkish Prime Minister spoke to a group of 11 people as part of the government’s attempt to listen to the demands of the demonstrators. The participants included artists, academics and students, as well as the Interior Minister, Environment and Urban Minister, Tourism and Culture Minister and the vice chair of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
Erdogan has warned that he would put an end to the gatherings, which he said were hurting Turkey’s image and economy.
Meanwhile, Turkey’s Ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) Deputy Chairman Huseyin Celik has said a referendum might be held to decide whether to build barracks in Gezi Park or leave it as it is.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch on Tuesday condemned the Turkish police for using brutal force against anti-government protesters.
Violent clashes between the police and the protesters continued throughout Tuesday, and both sides took and lost control of Istanbul’s Taksim Square several times.
On Tuesday night, thousands of protesters returned to the square. Special police forces used tear gas, rubber bullets, and water cannons to disperse the demonstrators.
Turkish riot police fought running battles with pockets of protesters Tuesday night, clearing the central Istanbul square that has been the focus of nearly two weeks of protests against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
By Wednesday morning, Taksim Square, strewn with wreckage from bulldozed barricades, was largely deserted and taxis crossed it for the first time since the troubles started. Several hundred remained in an encampment of tents in Gezi Park abutting the square.
Andrew Gardner, Turkey researcher at the London-based Amnesty International, in a statement censured Turkey for the recent acts of police brutality.
“Instead of continuing to repress peaceful activists, the Turkish authorities should start to look at the actions of their own police and bring to justice those responsible for the shocking abuse we have seen over the past two weeks,” he said.
“The protests in Taksim Square and Gezi Park have been entirely peaceful and have a right to continue,” added Gardner, who is currently in Istanbul.
Human Rights Watch issued a statement, saying Tuesday’s police attack on “tens of thousands of peaceful protesters has all but destroyed efforts to foster a peaceful dialogue between the government and protesters.”
“Tear-gassing tens of thousands of protesters in Taksim Square won’t end this crisis,” said Emma Sinclair-Webb, Turkey researcher at the New York-based Human Rights Watch.
“If Turkey is to be counted among rights-respecting countries, the police brutality has to stop and the government should talk to the protesters.”
Also on Tuesday, in a televised speech to parliament, Erdogan said the government would not show “any more tolerance” for the violent demonstrations.
“They say the prime minister is rough. So what was going to happen? Were we going to kneel down in front of these [people]? If you call this roughness, I’m sorry, but this Tayyip Erdogan won’t change,” he declared.
“To those who… are at Taksim and elsewhere taking part in the demonstrations with sincere feelings: I call on you to leave those places and to end these incidents and I send you my love. But for those who want to continue with the incidents I say: ‘It’s over.’ As of now we have no tolerance for them,” Erdogan stated.
“Not only will we end the actions, we will be at the necks of the provocateurs and terrorists and no one will get away with it,” he added.
The unrest began on May 31 after police broke up a sit-in held at Istanbul’s Taksim Square to protest against the proposal to demolish Gezi Park.
Over the next 12 days, tens of thousands of anti-government protesters held demonstrations in 78 cities across the country.
According to the Turkish Human Rights Foundation, four people have died, including a policeman, and about 5,000 people have been injured in the protests.
The protesters say Gezi Park, which is a traditional gathering point for rallies and demonstrations as well as a popular tourist destination, is Istanbul’s last green public space.
Erdogan has been harshly criticized for the way he has handled the crisis.
According to a number of political analysts, the popularity of the ruling AK Party — which has won three straight elections — could decline if Erdogan does not resolve the crisis in a way acceptable to the general public.
Turkish riot police fired tear gas and water cannons at hundreds of protesters armed with rocks and fireworks on Tuesday as they tried to regain control of a central Istanbul square at the heart of anti-government demonstrations.
Riot police backed by armored vehicles moved into Taksim Square, epicenter of more than ten days of protest, soon after dawn. Bulldozers began removing barricades made of paving stones and corrugated iron.
What began as a protest at redevelopment plans for Gezi Park, a leafy corner of the square, has grown into an unprecedented challenge to Erdogan, who has governed for over 10 years. Victor in three consecutive elections, he says the protests are engineered by vandals, terrorist elements and foreign forces.
“A comprehensive attack against Turkey has been carried out,” Erdogan told parliamentary group meeting of his AK Party.
“The increase in interest rates, the fall in the stock markets, the deterioration in the investment environment, the intimidation of investors — the efforts to distort Turkey’s image have been put in place as a systematic project,” he said.
The unrest has knocked investor confidence in a country long one of the world’s best performing emerging markets, and the lira, already suffering from wider market turmoil, fell to its weakest against its dollar/euro basket since October 2011.
The cost of insuring Turkish debt against default rose to its highest in ten months, although it remained far from crisis levels.
The police move came a day after Erdogan agreed to meet protest leaders, whose peaceful demonstrations two weeks ago spiraled into anti-government protests in cities across the country in which three people have been killed.
“I invite all demonstrators, all protesters, to see the big picture and the game that is being played,” Erdogan said. “The ones who are sincere should withdraw … and I expect this from them as their prime minister.”
Police removed huge banners hung by protesters from a building overlooking Taksim but the local governor said they had no intention of breaking up a peaceful campaign against government redevelopment plans inside the adjoining Gezi Park, where the demonstrations first began. Riot police moved into the park briefly, then withdrew.
“Our aim is to remove the signs and pictures on the Ataturk statue and the Ataturk Cultural Centre. We have no other aim,” Istanbul Governor Huseyin Avni Mutlu wrote on Twitter.