Turkish protesters remain despite Erdogan warning

Protesters, many camped out in tents, now control large area around Taksim Square, with approach roads barricaded.

June 10, 2013 19:00
4 minute read.
People sleep at Taksim Square, June 10, 2013

Taksim Square protesters370. (photo credit: Reuters)

ISTANBUL - A core of Turkish protesters showed little sign of easing their occupation of a central Istanbul square on Monday after Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan warned his patience may run out over the worst anti-government unrest in years.

Protesters, many camped out in tents, now control a large area around Taksim Square, with approach roads barricaded by masonry, paving stones and steel rods. Police have withdrawn completely from the area, water cannon kept hundreds of meters away by the side of the Bosphorus waterway.

The unrest has unnerved investors who have long viewed Turkey as one of the more stable emerging markets. Ratings agency Moody's said prolonged uncertainty could hit tourism revenues and slow investment in its capital markets.

Erdogan criticized speculators after the stock market fell almost 15 percent during last week's unrest. He said he would "choke" those who were growing rich off "the sweat of the people", comments that further jangled investors' nerves.

"This marks an abrupt about-turn for an administration that has always appeared to value foreign investment and has been very sensitive to markets," said Timothy Ash, head of emerging markets at Standard Bank.

"That era now seems to have ended and the administration appears set on a collision course with foreign investors and with markets," he said.

What began as a campaign against government plans to develop a leafy park in the corner of the square turned into a show of defiance against Erdogan and his Islamist-rooted AK Party after police firing tear gas and water cannon tried to flush out the campaigners ten days ago.

Erdogan has repeatedly dismissed the protesters as "capulcular", or riff-raff, a term they have proudly taken on as their own, but he has clearly been rattled, comparing the unrest with an army attempt six years ago to curb his power.

He held six rallies on Sunday, a measure of tensions after a week of the biggest protests of his decade in power. Thousands waved red Turkish flags and shouted, "Allahu akbar," (God is greatest) as he accused protesters of attacking women wearing headscarves and desecrating mosques by taking beer into them.

Some of the original Taksim protest organizers met on Monday to discuss whether to negotiate an end to the occupation of the square. Removing some of the barricades as a gesture of good will could be one bargaining tool.

Others were less optimistic, saying they had laid out demands including the release of detained protesters and a ban on police use of tear gas to Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc last Wednesday but had had no response.

"We want life on the square to return to normal," said Eyup Muhcu, head of the Chamber of Architects and part of the Taksim Solidarity Platform. "We are ready for dialogue...but the prime minister's remarks indicate he is not open to dialogue."

Abdulkadir Selvi, a political commentator close to the government, wrote in Yeni Safak newspaper that Erdogan would stick to a tough line.

"To summarize the new roadmap in short, Erdogan chose to fight. He will not reach an agreement with those who launched this movement against him or take a backward step," Selvi wrote.

He added a note of moderation.

"He will distinguish between those who have just demands, voicing their criticism without violence ... from those who use violent means to try and overthrow him."


Western countries have held up Erdogan's Turkey as an example of an Islamic democracy that could be emulated elsewhere in the Middle East. Violent police action, however, has drawn criticism from the West and Erdogan has increasingly accused foreign forces of trying to aggravate the troubles.

His outburst against what he calls the "high interest rate lobby" of speculative investors, foreign and domestic, was in the same vein, and he also urged Turks to put their money in state not private banks.

"Those who attempt to sink the bourse, you will collapse ... If we catch your speculation, we will choke you. No matter who you are, we will choke you," he said.

The cost of insuring Turkish debt against default rose to the highest since the end of October 2012 on Monday, according to data from Markit, although it remained far from crisis level, while stocks fell further and the lira weakened.

Three people have been killed and around 5,000 injured in the troubles rocking a country faced with war across its southern border with Syria.

Erdogan, who critics say has become authoritarian after three election victories in a row, compared the troubles with a confrontation with the army that became known as the "e-coup".

"Today, we are exactly where we were on April 27, 2007," he said on Sunday, referring to the Constitutional Court's annulment of an initial attempt to elect Abdullah Gul to the presidency, a post seen as guardian of the state's secular foundations, despite his history in political Islam.

Supporters of the AK Party, founded by Erdogan and Gul in 2001, saw his eventual election as a decisive victory over a military that had toppled four governments in four decades.

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