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
“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.
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
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
The protracted battle on the square spilled over to Gezi Park,
with several tear gas volleys falling on the tents of the demonstrators,
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
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
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
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
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
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
Rising tensions could also jeopardize Turkey’s international
initiatives, such as Istanbul’s bid for the 2020 Summer
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
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.
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
Igal Aciman is a business development executive
and a freelance journalist. His blog can be viewed at www.igalaciman.com
contributed to this report.
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