Reuters — June 1, 2013
The Prime Minister, Tayyip Erdogan, who has been criticised for being increasingly authoritarian, was sufficiently rattled to appear on television calling for calm, and even conceded that police may have been excessive in their response.
But he vowed to push ahead with plans for the redevelopment of the city’s central Taksim Square, which triggered the demonstrations, and said the issue was being used as an excuse to stoke tensions. But later, in a bid to calm the febrile mood, police retreated from a main Istanbul square, taking away barricades and allowing in tens of thousands of demonstrators.
The protest at Taksim’s Gezi Park started late on Monday after trees were torn up under the redevelopment plan, but it has widened into a broader demonstration against Mr Erdogan and his Islamic-leaning Justice and Development Party (AKP).
During his decade in power Mr Erdogan has turned Turkey’s economy into Europe’s fastest-growing, and he is still the country’s most popular politician. But critics point to his authoritarianism and what they say is his government’s meddling in private life. Tighter restrictions on alcohol sales and warnings against public displays of affection in recent weeks have sparked protests. Many Turks are also concerned that government policy means Turkey will be dragged into the conflict in Syria by the West.