ISTANBUL, 17 JUNE: Two of Turkey’s main trade unions began a nationwide strike today to protest at police violence against anti-government demonstrators, a day after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan defended his crackdown on an Istanbul protest park.
Turkish Interior Minister Muammer Guler condemned the stoppage as “illegal” and warned strikers not to take to the streets, as the Islamic-rooted government battled to clamp down on nearly three weeks of nationwide civil unrest.
Riot police were still firing volleys of teargas and water at pockets of demonstrators in Istanbul and the capital Ankara early today, after a weekend of clashes sparked by the eviction of protesters occupying Gezi Park, the epicentre of the protest movement.Nearly 600 people were arrested in the scuffles yesterday, according to the Ankara and Istanbul bar associations.
The KESK and DISK trade unions, who together represent hundreds of thousands of workers, called a one-day stoppage to object to the police response to the trouble and said they planned to hold demos in late afternoon. “Our demand is for police violence to end immediately,” KESK spokesman Baki Cinar said, adding that the unions would be joined by striking engineers, dentists and doctors.
The weekend violence has intensified a crisis that poses the biggest challenge yet to Mr Erdogan’s decade-long rule.
At a rally of more than 1,00,000 supporters of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) yesterday, the premier insisted it was his “duty” to order police to storm Gezi Park after protesters defied his warnings to clear out. “I said we were at an end. That it was unbearable. Yesterday the operation was carried out and it was cleaned up,” a combative Mr Erdogan told a sea of flag-waving loyalists. “It was my duty as prime minister.”
Mr Erdogan’s words were met with roaring approval from the audience, the largest crowd to assemble since the crisis began.