Erdogan’s party orders protesters to leave park

‘Turkey as such has no place in Europe,’ head of European Parliament’s socialists says; Erdogan meets with protesters.

June 13, 2013 00:41
Turkish President Abdullah Gul.

Turkey President Abdullah Gul flag 311. (photo credit: REUTERS/Olivia Harris )

ISTANBUL – Turkey’s ruling AK Party on Wednesday ordered protesters to leave Istanbul’s central Gezi Park immediately and said it would consider holding a referendum on redevelopment plans that sparked almost two weeks of violent demonstrations.

“Those with bad intentions or who seek to provoke and remain in the park will be facing the police,” deputy party chairman Huseyin Celik told a news conference.

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On Tuesday, police armored vehicles rolled into Taksim Square for the first time since June 1, when a temporary standoff was reached between the demonstrators and the police. For the past two weeks, the square had been occupied by thousands of protesters. While clashes continued in other parts of the country, demonstrations in Istanbul had been mostly nonviolent.

Four people have died and more than 5,000 have been wounded since the protests began on May 28. More than 1,000 have been arrested, though many of them have since been released.

To disperse the crowd, Istanbul police used water cannons, stun grenades and tear gas. A small group of masked men were captured throwing improvised incendiary weapons at the officers, while a larger group used fireworks to slow down the police action that lasted about 20 hours.

The protracted battle on the square spilled over to Gezi Park, with several tear gas volleys falling on the tents of the demonstrators, sparking panic.

The crackdown at Taksim took many by surprise, as it came right after an announcement by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of his intention to meet with what he referred to as “legitimate protesters” on Wednesday afternoon; the meeting was conducted without the press.

Istanbul Gov. Huseyin Mutlu said the aim of the police action was “to remove the banners and pictures from the square and [the windows of] the Ataturk Cultural Center,” which, along with Gezi Park, had been occupied by the protesters to prevent both places from being demolished as part of the government’s Taksim renovation plan.

The banners to which Mutlu referred displayed a wide array of slogans and pictures, noted lately for the preponderance of communist ideology contained in them. The banners on the cultural center included pictures of Karl Marx along with an executed left-wing militia leader and a Soviet leader.

On Wednesday, Guy Verhofstadt of Belgium, head of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats in the European Parliament, called Turkey “the world’s largest prison for journalists” and asked European leaders to stop the “tyranny of the majority.”

“Turkey as such has no place in Europe,” said Hannes Swoboda of Austria, head of the socialists in the European Parliament, which had been supportive of Turkey’s bid to join the EU in the past.

The Taksim Solidarity movement, which staged the initial protests and had been critical of some of the banners, issued a statement on Tuesday evening calling for protesters to return to the square, as the images of excessive police force once again spread through social media.

A finer-tuned plan of action by the government could have resulted in less violence and used the emergence of far-left elements in the protests to its advantage to regain some of the credibility that it lost due to aggression against peaceful protesters, restrictions on the media and a volatile stock market.

However, dramatic scenes of violence in Taksim Square were broadcast live across international news channels on Tuesday evening, attracting further attention to the Turkish government’s response to popular demonstrations.

The unrest in the equity markets was compounded by downward pressures in the currency market. On Tuesday, the Turkish central bank intervened directly five times in the open market to stabilize the Turkish lira.

Although Turkey has frequently been cited as a case of remarkable economic development over the past decade, investors are becoming increasingly wary of the government’s response to what had started out as a demonstration against the planned demolition of a public park.

A bond trader in a Londonbased hedge fund said that emerging market-focused investment funds could reduce their exposure to Turkey-based assets if the government’s “irrationally antagonistic” approach continues.

The trader, who did not want to be named due to company policy, believes the harsh tone assumed by Erdogan “conveys a sense of loss of control over an issue that should have been resolved amicably,” citing the recent lashing out at Ergun Özen, CEO of Turkey’s Garanti Bank, in which the prime minister said, “If a bank chief executive says he is on the side of those who organized this vandalism, then he will have to deal with us.”

Rising tensions could also jeopardize Turkey’s international initiatives, such as Istanbul’s bid for the 2020 Summer Olympics.

Turkey’s Minister for EU Affairs Egemen Bagis expressed concern on Wednesday, saying, “The competitors of Izmir’s EXPO 2020 and Istanbul’s Olympic candidacy will use Gezi Park incidents against Turkey,” according to the state news agency AA.

President Abdullah Gul affirmed his belief that Turkey “will overcome these [riots] with a democratic maturity,” but as the police moved to arrest 49 lawyers who staged a protest outside Istanbul’s Caglayan Courthouse, the largest courthouse in the country, Gul’s words did not find much resonance in the international media.

Faced with an impromptu civil revolt against his authoritarian tendencies, Erdogan, despite having enjoyed great popularity and little opposition for more than a decade, now seems to stick to the old vision of Turkish politics, in which plots by factions of the so-called “deep state” or the military could leverage political unrest to bring down elected governments, as has happened four times in the republic’s history.

By blaming alleged agents of the “interest lobby,” private banks or foreign governments, Erdogan would miss an opportunity to engage in constructive dialogue to strengthen Turkish democracy.

It is increasingly clear that most of the protesters have no intention of overthrowing his government, as they lack ideological cohesion among themselves.

Yet, afraid of undemocratic conspirators, Erdogan seems determined not to back down from any of his policies that have provoked the demonstrations, even if this strategy sacrifices some of Turkey’s hard-earned gains, economically and in international standing.

Igal Aciman is a business development executive and a freelance journalist. His blog can be viewed at

Reuters contributed to this report.

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