Government crackdown on Turkey protests draws condemnation | News | DW | 01.06.2013
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Government crackdown on Turkey protests draws condemnation

Tens of thousands of anti-government protesters have taken to the streets in Turkey. The demonstrations have raised international concern after the government's harsh crack down on the protesters.

Riot police backed by armored vehicles and helicopters fired tear gas and water canon in Istanbul and Ankara for a second day on Saturday during Turkey's fiercest anti-government protests in years.

The unrest was sparked by the government's planned reconstruction of an Ottoman-era barracks to house shops or apartments on Istanbul's Taksim Square, a longtime hub of political protest. But the movement has turned into a nationwide call to action from protesters who accuse Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) of gradually imposing Islamist rule in the secular country.

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Many injured in Istanbul protests

Saturday unrest

Tens of thousands made their way across the 1.6 kilometer (1 mile) Bosphorus Bridge towards Taksim Square but were halted by security forces. Crowds chanted "shoulder to shoulder against fascism" and "government resign" as they approached the square where hundreds were injured in clashes the day before.

Police later pulled back from the square, with protesters shouting: "We are here Tayyip, where are you?"

Protesters throwing stones also clashed with police in the Kizilay district of central Ankara as a helicopter fired tear gas into the crowds. Riot police wielding electric shock batons also chased demonstrators into side streets and shops.

Dozens of people have been injured since the protests first began. Interior Minister Muammer Guler said 939 arrests had been made in more than 90 separate demonstrations across the country.

Condemnation

Turkey's response to the unrest drew harsh criticism from Western officials.

"The severity with which the police have responded is completely inappropriate and will lead to an expansion of the protests," European Parliament President Martin Schulz said.

The US State Department warned: "Turkey's long-term stability, security and prosperity is best guaranteed by upholding the fundamental freedoms of expression, assembly and association, which is what it seems these individuals were doing."

The British foreign office, meanwhile, urged Turkey "to exercise restraint and not use tear gas indiscriminately."

Prime minister responds

Erdogan urged protesters to stop in a televised speech Saturday, but admitted there had been some cases of "extreme" police action.

"I call on the protesters to stop their demonstrations immediately," he said, adding that "the use of pepper spray by security forces was a mistake."

The prime minister also remained adamant he would push forward with the controversial plans to develop the square and said police would bring protests there to an end.

"If this is about holding meetings, if this is a social movement, where they gather 20, I will get up and gather 200,000 people. Where they gather 100,000, I will bring 1 million from my party," Erdogan said.

"Every four years we hold elections and this nation makes its choice," he said. "Those who have a problem with the government's policies can express their opinions within the framework of the law."

dr/lw (dpa, Reuters, AFP, AP)

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