Suzannah Hills — Daily Mail June 3, 2013
Turkish protesters clashed with riot police into the early hours of this morning and the offices of the ruling AK Party were set alight amid the fiercest anti-government demonstrations in years in the country.
After a night of angry protests in major cities across the country, this morning brought brief respite to Turkey’s streets before violence flared once again between demonstrators and police in Istanbul.
Officers fired tear gas at a group of protesters close to Erdogan’s offices today, the Dogan news agency reported, with demonstrators responding by hurling stones at police.
The agency said as many as 500 protesters were detained overnight after police broke up a protests by several thousands of people in the capital Ankara. Turkey’s Fox television reported 300 others detained in a similar crackdown in Izmir, Turkey’s third largest city.
The demonstrations that grew out of anger over excessive police force have spiralled into Turkey’s biggest anti-government demonstrations in years, challenging Erdogan’s power.
The country’s embattled leader has rejected claims that he is a dictator, and gave a defiant interview on national television in which he blamed social media for the ongoing protests, a report in the Times said.
‘There is now a menace which is called Twitter.
‘The best examples of lies can be found there. To me, social media is the worst menace to society,’ he said.
In Izmir last night protesters threw fire bombs at AK Party offices, and television footage showed part of the building ablaze. Firefighters put out the fire, the Dogan agency said.
Bus shelters, paving stones and street signs were ripped up by protesters to make barricades that littered a major avenue by the Bosphorus strait in Istanbul where some of the heaviest clashes took place overnight, and graffiti covered walls.
Roads around Erdogan’s office in Istanbul were sealed off as police fired tear gas to push back protesters in the early hours of this morning.
In the main street near the Prime Minister’s office, one demonstrator drove a small mechanical digger towards police lines as other protesters followed behind last night. At a nearby mosque, medical staff including trainee doctors treated those hurt in the clashes.
Police raided a shopping complex in the centre of the capital Ankara where they believed demonstrators were sheltering, detaining several hundred.
Tens of thousands took to the streets in the country’s four biggest cities yesterday – the third day of anti-government protests – with demonstrators clashing with riot police, who repelled them with tear gas.
The unrest initially erupted on Friday when trees were torn down at a park in Istanbul’s main Taksim Square under government plans to redevelop the area. But they have widened into a broad show of defiance against the Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP).
Prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan blamed the main secular opposition party for inciting the crowds, and said the protests were aimed at depriving his ruling AK Party of votes as elections begin next year.
Erdogan said the plans to remake the square, long an iconic rallying point for mass demonstrations, would go ahead, including the construction of a new mosque and the rebuilding of a replica Ottoman-era barracks.
And he said the protests – which were started by a small group of environmental campaigners but mushroomed when police used force to eject them from the park on Taksim Square – had nothing to do with the plans.
‘It’s entirely ideological,’ he told Turkish television. The demonstrations have since drawn in a wide range of people of all ages from across the political and social spectrum.
Protests yesterday were not as violent as the previous two days but police used tear gas to try to disperse hundreds of people in Ankara’s main Kizilay Square. There were similar clashes in Izmir and Adana, Turkey’s third and fourth-biggest cities.
In Taksim Square, the atmosphere was more festive with some chanting for Erdogan to resign and others singing and dancing. There were later clashes between police and protesters near Erdogan’s office in a former Ottoman palace in the city.
The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) denied orchestrating the unrest.
‘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.
Some 2.5 million Britons visit Turkey each year and it is an increasingly popular destination for holidaymakers from the UK.
The Foreign Office has also warned Britons to avoid travelling to areas close to the Syrian border.
Turkish Interior Minister Muammer Guler yesterday said more than 1,700 people had been arrested in anti-government protests that have spread to 67 cities nationwide, though most have since been released.
‘A large majority of the detainees were released after being questioned and identified,’ he said in remarks carried by the state-run Anatolia news agency. He added that the country had seen 235 demonstrations since Tuesday.Meanwhile Britons are being urged to avoid trips to Turkey until the ongoing riots have dissipated.
The Foreign Office said on its website: ‘Demonstrations are taking place in Istanbul and in other cities across Turkey, including Ankara.
‘Police are using tear gas and water cannon in response. We advise British nationals to avoid all demonstrations.’
Police used tear gas on protesters in Ankara but the clashes yesterday initially were relatively minor compared with major violence in Turkey’s biggest cities on the previous two days.
Meanwhile Turkey’s Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan accused the main secular opposition party of provoking the wave of anti-government protests.
Calling the protesters ‘a few looters’, Erdogan said he would press ahead with redeveloping Istanbul’s Taksim Square, a project which provoked the demonstrations that have widened into a broader show of defiance against his Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP).
Erdogan singled out the Republican People’s Party (CHP) – set up in 1924 by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk who founded Turkey’s modern secular state – for attack over a dispute he described as ideological.
‘We think that the main opposition party which is making resistance calls on every street is provoking these protests,’ Erdogan said on Turkish television.
Turkey’s fiercest anti-government unrest for years erupted when trees were torn down at a park in Taksim Square under government plans to construct a new mosque and rebuild a replica Ottoman-era barracks.
‘This reaction is no longer about the ripping out 12 trees. This is based on ideology,’ said Erdogan, whose conservative vision for the nation has angered more liberal Turks. Referring to the planned mosque, he added: ‘Obviously I will not ask for permission for this from the head of CHP or a few looters.’
Tens of thousands gathered on Sunday after a calmer night in Taksim Square, which saw two days of clashes between protesters and riot police backed by armoured vehicles and helicopters.
The atmosphere was more festive with some chanting for Erdogan to resign and others singing and dancing. There was little obvious police presence.
In Ankara’s downtown Kizilay district, however, police used tear gas after a few thousand people chanted anti-government slogans and blocked traffic.
Yesterday rain appeared to keep the crowds away from Taksim Square initially, but this did not dampen the spirit of the protesters whose numbers later swelled.
‘We will stay until the end,’ said Akin, who works in motor trade and has been in Taksim for the past four days. ‘We are not leaving. The only answer now is for this government to fall. We are tired of this oppressive government constantly putting pressure on us.’
There were more than 90 separate demonstrations around the country on Friday and Saturday, officials said. More than 1,000 people have been injured in Istanbul and several hundred more in Ankara, according to medical staff.
The ferocity of the police response in Istanbul shocked Turks, as well as tourists caught up in the unrest in one of the world’s most visited destinations. It has drawn rebukes from the United States, European Union and international rights groups.
Helicopters fired tear gas canisters into residential neighbourhoods and police used teargas to try to smoke people out of buildings. Footage on YouTube showed one protester being hit by an armoured police truck as it charged a barricade.
Erdogan has overseen a transformation in Turkey during his decade in power, turning its once crisis-prone economy into the fastest-growing in Europe.
On Sunday, he addressed critics who called him a ‘dictator’.
‘We have carried Turkey into a new era… If they call someone who is a servant of his country, then I have nothing to say to them,’ he said.
Among Turks in general Erdogan remains by far the most popular politician, but critics point to what they see as his authoritarianism and religiously conservative meddling in private lives in the secular republic.
Tighter restrictions on alcohol sales and warnings against public displays of affection in recent weeks have also provoked protests. Concern that government policy is allowing Turkey to be dragged into the conflict in neighbouring Syria by the West has also led to peaceful demonstrations.