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Originally published June 5, 2013 at 10:17 AM | Page modified June 6, 2013 at 2:13 PM

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Amid Turkey’s protests, some tourists are swept along

Some visitors have postponed or canceled trips because of the political protests in Turkey, but others have had no problems in Istanbul and some are going to protest sites.

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ISTANBUL — Turkey, a largely Muslim nation that bridges Europe and Asia, has a flourishing tourist industry thanks to its ancient historical sites and ruins, a world-ranked metropolis in Istanbul, wide sandy Mediterranean beaches and stunning regions of natural beauty.

In recent days Istanbul has been hit by the country’s largest anti-government demonstrations in years, with confrontations between police and protesters. Here’s a look at the industry and what tourists in Turkey are experiencing.

THE NUMBERS

Turkey attracted more than 37.7 million visitors in 2012, according to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, which says the country is among the top 10 most popular tourist destinations in the world. Over 5.2 million visitors have arrived already this year, a nearly 14 percent increase over the same period in 2012, it says.

Some 378,000 U.S. residents visited Turkey in 2011, the latest year in which figures are available, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.

While protesters and riot police have clashed for days in Istanbul, Ankara and other cities over the past week, the museums, monuments and ancient treasures that tourists flock to have largely stayed open.

Basaran Ulusoy, the head of Turkey’s tourism agencies’ association, TURSAB, acknowledged there had been some cancellations and postponements since the protests began last week but did not give a figure. “We are trying to turn the cancellations into postponements,” Ulusoy told Turkey’s business TV station CNBC-e.

— AP writer Beth Harpaz in New York and AP writer Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey

ISTANBUL, JEWEL OF THE BOSPORUS

This sprawling city on the Bosporus Strait is so laden with world-famous tourist attractions it’s hard to know where to begin: the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, the famed bath houses.

Yet Istanbul’s main tourist attractions are a fair distance — at least 30 minutes — from Taksim Square and Besiktas, where most of the violence has broken out, and tourists were still lining up for entrance tickets.

“We heard about the protests but we didn’t see that as a threat,” said John Bradberry, a U.S. investor waiting to see the Hagia Sophia, the church that became a mosque and is now a museum. “We didn’t change any of our plans and arrived here and we are just astonished of how beautiful and peaceful and wonderful it was.”

At nearby Sultanahmet, Istanbul’s old city, Gianluca Cassandro, a 25-year-old radiology technician from Italy, said he had heard about the protests a day before he left Venice but decided to enjoy his vacation here anyway.

Some tourists ventured into Taksim Square in the morning, when the situation was quiet and protesters were mainly sleeping off the previous night’s tear gas. One woman from Egypt said she came to Turkey on vacation every year but this year she went specifically to Taksim to encourage the protesters.

Still, the crowds in the city were far smaller than usual at this time of year, and some events, like the Istanbul International Arts and Culture Festival, were postponed.

—AP writer Elena Becatoros in Istanbul

ON THE STREETS

Krupali Tejura, a radiation oncologist from Newport Beach, California, was on vacation in Istanbul last week when the protests began. On Friday, she wandered over to Taksim Square without understanding what was going on.

“The Internet and Twitter were down and my hotel only had Turkish TV,” she said in a phone interview Tuesday. Once she got to the area, the tear gas and pepper spray were so strong that “you couldn’t even breathe. A stranger gave me a mask to help me out.” Others sprayed her face with vinegar to neutralize the airborne irritants.

Tejura began to take photos and videos with her iPhone, and strangers offered her access to their home Wi-Fi passwords as she passed by.

“The generosity of strangers came out,” she said.

— AP writer Beth Harpaz in New York

HEADING OVER, EAGER TO GO

Victoria Benitez, a New Yorker who works in public relations, is scheduled to leave Thursday for her first visit to Turkey.

“I really am not freaking out,” she said by phone Tuesday.

She’s also been monitoring news reports and says she doesn’t get the sense that the protesters are anti-Western or extremists.

“They remind me of the Occupy Wall Street protesters,” she said. “I don’t see these people as dangerous.”

— AP writer Beth Harpaz in New York

TURKEY’S SOUTHERN BEACHES

German, British and Russian tourists descend by the planeload upon southern Turkey to revel in its modern Mediterranean beach resorts, its classical Greek and Roman monuments and the nearby lunar volcanic landscapes of Cappadocia.

Turkish Airlines has embarked on a big international push, hiring sports stars like Kobe Bryant and Lionel Messi to lure tourists with clever ads.

The Hurriyet newspaper quoted Osman Ayik, head of the Turkish Hoteliers Federation, as saying the situation in Antalya on Turkey’s southern Mediterranean coast is “calm.”

“Tourists haven’t been disturbed by the action of our citizens. However, if the incidents grow and unwanted developments occur, then we might see cancellations on our coastal resorts too,” he said.

— AP writer Suzan Fraser in Ankara

THE TURKISH ECONOMIC POWERHOUSE

Turkey’s economy is worth $1.3 trillion annually, almost as much as Canada’s or Spain’s, and is growing. It expanded by 2.2 percent in 2012 and should do better this year, even though several key trading partners in Europe are in recession.

Although Turkey is considered an ‘emerging market’, its economy is relatively well developed — the services sector accounts for around 60 percent of annual output and agriculture for only about 10 percent.

A public service trade union called a general strike Tuesday and Wednesday in support of the protests. Thousands of union members marched to Istanbul’s Taksim Square on Tuesday but there was no evidence of any major disruption to services.

— AP Business writer Carlo Piovano in London

HIGH SEAS

Azamara Journey, a Royal Caribbean cruise ship, ended and started a cruise on Monday in Istanbul, and “did not encounter any issues due to the protests,” according to spokeswoman Cynthia Martinez.

Norwegian Cruise Line has a ship making a stop in Istanbul next week and has not changed its itinerary but said it was monitoring the situation.

—AP writer Beth Harpaz in New York

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