ISTANBUL, 3 JUNE: Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan today rejected talk of a “Turkish Spring”, facing down the worst protests in his decade-long rule as fresh clashes erupted between police and demonstrators in Ankara.
Mr Erdogan defied protesters who accuse him of seeking to impose conservative Islamic reforms on secular Turkey, stressing that he was democratically elected. “Was there a multi-party system in the Arab Spring countries?” he said in televised comments.
Photographers in Ankara later saw police fire teargas and use water cannon to disperse stone-throwing demonstrators on the fourth day of violent protests that have swept scores of Turkish cities. Rights groups say hundreds have been wounded in clashes nationwide that have pitted stone-throwing protesters against riot police firing teargas and water cannons since Friday.
Mr Erdogan’s ally President Abdullah Gul today urged calm and promised protesters that their voice had been heard. “The messages delivered with good intentions have been received,” he was quoted as saying quoted by the Anatolia news agency.
Mr Erdogan struck a harder tone, vowing: “We will stand firm” against the protests and promising his supporters: “We’ll overcome this.”
With Turkey’s allies calling for restraint and international human rights groups denouncing the police crackdown, Mr Gul acknowledged the demonstrators’ right to protest but called for an end to the clashes.
“Democracy does not only mean elections,” he said, adding: “I am calling on all my citizens to abide by the rules and state their objections and views in a peaceful way, as they have already done.”
Mr Erdogan had earlier denounced demonstrators as “vandals”.
He also lashed out at the social messaging service Twitter, used by many of the protesters. “There is a troublemaker called Twitter, the worst of lies are in there,” he told the Haberturk television channel on Sunday, citing false tweets about attacks against protesters and fatalities. “What they call social media is the nuisance of societies. Society gets terrorised this way.”
Istanbul’s main Taksim Square, where the protests first erupted, was relatively quiet early today as people started the first workday since tensions boiled over on Friday.
But protesters’ banners and barriers of scrap metal remained, suggesting they would return to resume days of demonstrations that have by some accounts left hundreds injured around Turkey.
Overnight, crowds marched on Mr Erdogan’s offices in Istanbul and in the capital Ankara, lighting fires and yelling: “Dictator, resign!… We will resist until we win.”
The protest started as a small campaign against the redevelopment of Gezi Park near Taksim Square, a rare green spot in central Istanbul.