Turmoil in Turkey intensifies
The Washington Post
ISTANBUL — The turmoil in Turkey entered a new stage Sunday, with riot police tearing through residential neighborhoods in Istanbul to clear streets of protesters as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivered a fiery speech to tens of thousands of supporters on the city’s outskirts.
As thousands of protesters who had been pushed out of central Taksim Square a day earlier tried to return, many said they would stay in the streets, and five major trade unions declared a general strike starting Monday. And with Erdogan on Sunday telling his opponents that the proper place to challenge him was at the ballot box, residents said other ongoing controversies could spark new protests in the lead-up to local polls next year.
The conflict over the park, Istanbul’s last central green space, quickly transformed into a broader outpouring of frustration about what critics call Erdogan’s campaign to reshape personal liberties in a more conservative Islamic fashion. With new alcohol restrictions set to take effect within months and plans for vast new infrastructure projects that could inspire similar opposition, protesters said they would not fade quietly into a society that has been dominated by Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party for the past 10 years.
“We are embracing our nation,” Erdogan told a cheering crowd in Istanbul, at the same moment that riot police were firing canisters of tear gas to clear protesters in the leafy, bohemian neighborhood of Cihangir, about a mile from Taksim Square, the site of the park at the center of the demonstrations.
“The parks cannot be under occupation. And now my patience is done,” Erdogan said. “Taksim Square is evacuated right now. And it’s given to the nation. The Istanbul municipality cleared Gezi Park, and now we are planting flowers. Now the real environmentalists are doing their job.”
As he has previously, Erdogan blamed foreign governments, media and the “interest-rate lobby” for stoking unrest, calling on supporters to hang the red-and-white Turkish flag from their windows to show their love for their country.
As Erdogan spoke and security forces cleared Istanbul of protesters, residents of Cihangir shouted from their windows at riot police.
“Will you come and take us from our homes next?” one middle-aged man yelled.
Clashes there continued for hours, with riot police making repeated sweeps, firing tear gas each time. Protesters set up makeshift barriers with potted trees. By early Monday, some protesters had started to throw rocks at police.
Opposition groups that on Saturday had been considering standing down said Sunday that their demands were unchanged and that they would work to press Erdogan harder than ever.
“There’s a new page opened in Turkish history,” said Eyup Muhcu, a leader of the Taksim Solidarity umbrella group, who met with Erdogan on Friday, a day before the Taksim Square crackdown. “Everybody will pour into the squares in every park of Turkey for their rights and demands.”
Perhaps seeking to avert that, security forces on Sunday cordoned off not only Taksim Square but also smaller neighborhood plazas across the country that could be used for demonstrations. Clashes between protesters and police broke out in many Istanbul neighborhoods that had previously been quiet, probably because clearing Taksim dispersed demonstrators across the city.
Dark-green military vehicles also took part in the efforts, an important sign that Erdogan retains control over the armed forces. With Turkey’s history of military coups during periods of civil unrest, the apparent coordination between the civilian government and the military indicates that Erdogan’s widely praised efforts to subordinate Turkey’s army to civilian control have succeeded.
At least 5,000 people have been injured since the start of the protests, according to a medical association. Five people have died, including one police officer. And on Sunday, clashes erupted between Erdogan supporters and opponents in the conservative Anatolian city of Konya, the Turkish daily Hurriyet reported, the first between the two sides since the crackdown started Saturday.
At least 400 people were detained Sunday, according to the Istanbul Bar Association, with local news reports saying that some journalists had been among them. One foreign photographer documenting the clashes Saturday night said a police officer had torn his gas mask off him while in a cloud of tear gas, and forced him to clear his memory card of photographs.
Some doctors and nurses who treated protesters were detained by security forces Sunday, according to the legal offices of the Istanbul Chamber of Doctors.
Lawyers have been held by the authorities in recent days.
Information from The New York Times is included