Turkish protester in Istanbul's Taksim Square 370.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
ISTANBUL - Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party on Saturday said there was no question of calling early elections after a week of the fiercest anti-government protests in decades.
"Local elections will be held in March 2014, presidential elections in August 2014, and general elections in June 2015, and a change in the schedule is out of the question," Deputy Chairman Huseyin Celik told reporters after a meeting of the AK Party's executive committee.
Thousands of Turks dug in on Saturday for a weekend
of anti-government demonstrations despite Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's demand
for an immediate end to the worst political unrest of his decade in
In central Istanbul's Taksim Square, where riot police backed by
helicopters and armoured vehicles clashed with protesters a week ago, activists
spent the night in a makeshift protest camp, sleeping in tents and vandalized
buses, or wrapped in blankets under plane trees.
What began as a campaign
against the redevelopment of Gezi Park in a corner of Taksim Square spiralled
into an unprecedented display of public anger over the perceived
authoritarianism of Erdogan and his Islamist-rooted AK Party.
firing tear gas and water cannon have clashed with groups of protesters night
after night in Istanbul, Ankara and other cities across the country for much of
the past week, leaving three dead and some 4,000 injured.
demanded on Friday an immediate end to the protests, saying they had been
founded on a "campaign of lies." He has branded the demonstrators as looters and
has said the protests are being manipulated by "terrorist"
Erdogan gave no indication of any immediate plans to remove the
tent villages that have appeared in Taksim and a park in the capital, Ankara.
But the gatherings mark a challenge to a leader whose authority is built on
three successive election victories.
"Let them attack, they can't stop
us," shouted a member of the Turkish Communist Party, shouting through
loudspeakers to a cheering crowd from on top of a white van in Taksim
"The AK Party will go. This will be the end." The protesters have
built barricades of paving stones and corrugated iron on access roads to Taksim
to try to protect themselves against a potential police assault. But their
actions have brought gridlock to part of central Istanbul and it is unclear how
long the authorities will tolerate their presence.
The square is lined by
luxury hotels that should be doing a roaring trade as the summer season starts
in one of the world's most-visited cities. But a forced eviction could trigger a
repeat of the clashes seen earlier in the week.ANGER BOILS OVER
takes the protests as a personal affront.
He has enacted many democratic
reforms, taming a military that toppled four governments in four decades,
starting entry talks with the European Union, reining in rights abuses by police
and forging peace talks with Kurdish rebels to end a three-decade-old war that
has cost 40,000 lives. Per-capita income has tripled in nominal terms and
business has boomed under his rule.
But in recent years, critics say his
style, always forceful and emotional, has become authoritarian.
have come under pressure, and the arrests of military and other figures over
alleged coup plots as well as moves such as restrictions on alcohol sales have
unsettled especially secular middle-class Turks who are sensitive to any
encroachment of religion on their daily lives.
The fierce crackdown,
condemned by foreign powers, on what started as peaceful protests in Gezi Park
were the final straw, has caused simmering frustrations with Erdogan's
leadership to boil over.
"These protests are partly a result of his
success in economic and social transformation. There's a new generation who
doesn't want to be bullied by the prime minister and who is afraid their
lifestyle is in danger," said Joost Lagendijk, a former European parliamentarian
and Istanbul-based academic.
Sources close to the AK Party that Erdogan
founded in 2001, and which only a year later crushed traditional secular parties
in elections, suggest a sense of siege within the leadership, with influential
if disparate forces keen to remove Erdogan.
Citing a party source, the
Radikal newspaper said an AK Party executive meeting on Saturday may discuss the
possibility of calling early elections, although it could also change party
rules to enable Erdogan to seek a fourth term as prime minister rather than
running for the presidency.
Erdogan has made clear he has no intention of
stepping aside - pointing to the AK Party's 50 percent of the vote in the last
election - and he has no clear rivals inside the party or outside, with the
opposition fragmented on the streets and in parliament.