Unrest in Turkey’s four major cities, which began on Friday, continued into Sunday. The riots in Istanbul are erupting into a full-fledged anti-government demonstration.
Tens of thousands returned to the streets of Istanbul and the capital city of Ankara Sunday, after a cooling of tensions overnight. Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan blamed the main secular opposition party for inciting the crowds, whom he called “a few looters”, and said the protests were aimed at depriving his ruling AK Party of votes as elections begin next year.
The protest began quietly on Friday, as trees began to be torn down in Taksim square, the last park in Istanbul. Early demonstrators performed a sit-in to attempt a stoppage to the destruction of the park where businesses and a mosque would be constructed. As the number of protestors grew, it became less about the park, and more about the removal of Erdogan.
Erdogan said the rioters were not interested in saving the park.
“It’s entirely ideological,” he said in an interview broadcast on Turkish television.
“The main opposition party which is making resistance calls on every street is provoking these protests. This is about my ruling party, myself and the looming municipality elections in Istanbul and efforts to make the AK Party lose votes here.”
The Turkish press and television have given little coverage to the events. But word has traveled quickly all over the world by the use of ‘Twitter’.
“There is now a menace which is called Twitter,” Erdogan said. “The best examples of lies can be found there. To me, social media is the worst menace to society.”
Meanwhile, the main opposition party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), denies orchestrating the events.
“Today the people on the street across Turkey are not exclusively from the CHP, but from all ideologies and from all parties,” senior party member Mehmet Akif Hamzacebi said.
“What Erdogan has to do is not to blame CHP but draw the necessary lessons from what happened,” he told Reuters.
Although violence between the demonstrators and police lessened considerably Sunday, there were clashes near Erdogan’s office in a former Ottoman palace in the city.
Erdogan has had positive economic results for Turkey, but has been under fire for recent dictator-like actions. He has forbade the show of public affection and the use of alcoholic beverages.
He claims to be concerned about the health of the public.
“I want them to know that I want these (restrictions) for the sake of their health. Whoever drinks alcohol is an alcoholic,” he said.
In Taksim, protestors climbed to the top of a cultural center that is scheduled to be demolished. They posted a sign saying, “Don’t yield,” referring to what they are claiming to be dictatorial measures.
“If they call someone who has served the people a ‘dictator,’ I have nothing to say,” Erdogan said in an address to a group representing migrants from the Balkans. “My only concern has been to serve my country.”
In another speech delivered an hour later, Erdogan said: “I am not the master of the people. Dictatorship does not run in my blood or in my character. I am the servant of the people.”
Police using tear gas, water cannons, and pepper spray injured hundreds on Friday and Saturday. Some police were injured as well, as protestors pelted them with rocks. Over 1700 have been arrested, though hundreds have been released according to reports.
As the Istanbul and Ankara riots continue to erupt, protestors are calling for his administration to step down.
The Guardian Express