Turkey Police Clash With Protesters in Ankara

Selcan Hacaoglu & Alaa Shahine – Bloomberg June 8, 2013

Turkish police and anti-government protesters clashed in Ankara overnight after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s party ruled out early elections to defuse the worst political turmoil in at least a decade.

Police used water cannons and pepper spray to disperse hundreds of protesters overnight near parliament and the U.S. embassy in the capital. Demonstrators threw firebombs at security forces in Istanbul’s low-income Gazi district, CNN-Turk television reported today.

Thousands of demonstrators plan to rally later today in Istanbul’s Taksim Square, the epicenter of the anti-government movement. The unrest is Erdogan’s toughest test since taking office in 2003. Fitch Ratings has said an escalation could damage the economy, whose turnaround from crisis to growth is the ruling party’s biggest achievement.

A “whole new culture has developed in the public space which is likely to serve as an enduring opposition to Erdogan’s rule going forward,” Naz Masraff, an analyst at Eurasia Group, said in an e-mail yesterday.

At least three people have died, including a policeman, while more than 1,400 people have been injured since clashes began on May 31, according to the government. The Turkish Medical Association disputed the number of injured yesterday, saying more than 4,000 people have been treated at hospitals.

The turmoil has “seriously polarized the society,” Devlet Bahceli, leader of the Nationalist Action Party, said yesterday as he called for early elections.

The Cabinet will debate the incidents in Ankara tomorrow, Huseyin Celik, deputy chairman of Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party said, following discussions at an executive committee meeting of the party in Istanbul yesterday. The party is planning to hold mass rallies in response to protesters in Ankara on June 15 and in Istanbul on June 16, CNN-Turk television reported today.

If handled poorly, the crisis “could escalate, with adverse consequences for the economy,” Fitch Ratings senior director Paul Rawkins said in a June 7 e-mailed statement. The rating company raised Turkey to the lowest investment grade in November last year. Moody’s Investors Service followed with a similar move on May 16.

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