Turkish Riots Toll 79 Victims

Turkish riots June 2013Two day rioting in Turkey has netted at least 79 victims.  What began as a peaceful sit-in on Friday, escalating into a full blown demonstration.

Protestors were angry about the government’s plan to tear down a park and replace it with a reconstruction of a replica Ottoman-era military barracks and a shopping mall.  It is the last parcel of ‘green’ remaining in the center of Istanbul.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been the most polarizing leader in Turkey’s history.  What began as a mild protest about the park’s removal on Friday, has become a referendum on Erdogan.

Turkish police have been using tear gas, water cannons, and pepper spray for two days.  Saturday, they finally retreated from Taksim square, and the crowds rushed in.  As police retreated, they were pelted with stones by the protestors.

“The police where there yesterday, they are there today, and they will be there tomorrow. Taksim Square cannot be allowed to be a place where marginal groups can freely roam,” Erdogan said in a televised speech.

More than 930 people have been arrested since the protests began.  The protests have spread to the capital city of Ankara and the port city of Izmir.

As marchers accosted police in Ankara, they were shouting, “Tayyip resign.”

“Police are everywhere, and helicopters are monitoring our movements,” one protester said.

“Whenever police see us march, they come and gas us.  We were gassed, we disbursed and then gathered again.”

Erdogan conceded that excessive tear gas had been used by Turkish security forces.  At least 79 people have been injured, including 27 security officers.

“There have been errors in the actions of the security forces, especially with regard to use of pepper gas. Right now that is being investigated, researched,” he said.

Earlier Saturday crowds gathered across central Istanbul and chanted “government resign” and “shoulder to shoulder against fascism” as phalanxes of helmeted riot police responded with volleys of tear gas canisters.

The Prime Minister’s chief adviser, Ibrahim Kalin, claims that police were ordered to be ‘cautious’ about their use of force.  While he claimed that there were several considerations for the use of the area where the park now stands, he said nothing had been confirmed.

Protestors declare that the demonstration is about free speech, and consideration of the desires of the citizens, versus government dictating to them.

“People are entitled to disagreement with the government, they can exercise their democratic rights, but they can do so within the context of a democratic society,” Kalin said.

Although Turkey’s economy has improved under Erdogan, recently, increasing arrests of journalists investigating the Prime Minister’s tear gas attacks against opposition has earned him the nickname, “Chemical Tayyip.”  At present, Turkey has detained more reporters than any other nation.

“The reason for massive protest in Turkey is in fact trivial. (A construction in a park.) But this shows the cumulative reaction to Erdogan,” wrote Mustafa Akyol, a Turkish newspaper columnist and outspoken champion of “liberal Islam.”

“Erdogan needs to see that the country needs more ‘participatory democracy.’ People want to influence decisions in public matters.  It is ultimately none other than Erdogan who cultivated this anger and who needs to calm it down.”

With at least 79 people being injured in the Turkish riots, and over 930 arrested, the government of Turkey is facing increasing opposition by the very people who voted for Erdogan in 2002.

James Turnage

The Guardian Express


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