Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has vowed to push ahead with a project to build in Gezi Park in central Istanbul. The plan has sparked nationwide protest that has left three people dead and thousands injured.
"Why is there opposition to this project? Because it is being done by the AKP," Erdogan said Thursday, referring to Turkey's ruling Justice and Development party.
The protests in Turkey began when police cracked down last Friday at the park on environmentalists opposed to plans to build a replica Ottoman army barracks. Over the weekend, the transformed into anti-government protests that drew tens of thousands of people nationwide.
Protesters in the majority Muslim but deeply secular country have accused Erdogan of being authoritarian and imposing Islamic values.
"Competition in this matter or offering give and take is not a way in which you can run a state," the prime minister said, speaking while on a visit to Tunisia, the last leg of his four-day north African tour. "We will go through with this project … [which] respects [Turkey's] history, culture and environment."
The prime minister Thursday accused some of the protesters demonstrating in Istanbul's Taksim Square, the epicenter of anti-government rallies and near the park, of being part of a "terrorist organization." He also said several foreigners implicated in the violence had been arrested.
"Among the protesters, there are extremists, some of them implicated in terrorism," Erdogan said. "Supporters of this terrorist organization were present."
The foreign ministry, as well as Erdogan, said seven foreigners had been arrested, but did not specify what their role in the unrest had allegedly been.
Social media 'troublemaker'
The prime minister said the protesters accused of terrorism had participated in the social media movement surrounding the protests.
"They are involved," he said. "They have been caught in the streets and on social media."
Earlier in the week Erdogan had called the protesters "extremists" and criticized their tactic of organizing through social media as a "menace." He also said Twitter was full of "unmitigated lies."
"The thing that is called social media is a troublemaker in societies today," Erdogan said.
France urges 'restraint'
Erdogan has also been criticized for the government's tough crackdown on the protests, which included tear gas and water cannon. Two young male demonstrators have died in the unrest and a policeman who fell from a bridge while pursuing a protester died from his injuries Thursday.
France denounced Turkey's response to the protests, calling it "excessive" and urging "restraint."
"No democracy can be built by repressing those who express themselves in the streets. The right to demonstrate, the right to oppose must be respected," European Affairs Minister Thierry Repentin told the Senate, France's upper house.
dr/ipj (AFP, dpa, AP, Reuters)