WORLD

Widespread protests pose challenge to Turkey’s prime minister

In Turkey, it’s not about the park anymore. It’s about the prime minister. What began as a small sit-in over the Turkish government’s plan to demolish a park in central Istanbul in favor of a shopping arcade has swelled to become the biggest protest movement against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan since he was elected more than 10 years ago, CNN reports.
About a week since the demonstration started quietly in the park in Taksim Square, the now-angry protests show no sign of abating – and a defiant Erdogan shows no inclination to give in to their demands. On Monday, he dismissed allegations that security forces used excessive force, and downplayed that Turkey could be on the cusp of its own “Arab Spring.” “We are servants of the people, not masters. We did not use violence,” he said before leaving for a four-day trip to North Africa.
“Those in Turkey who speak of the Turkish Spring are right; the season is, in fact, spring,” he said. “But there are those trying to turn it into a winter.” On Sunday night, protesters wearing face masks and goggles hurled rocks and police fired tear gas in the Besiktas district of central Istanbul. Some demonstrators wounded in the clashes, including a young man with a bloodied face, were carried to a 150-year-old mosque for treatment by medics. The protests have spread beyond Istanbul to other parts of the country. There were reports of confrontations in the capital, Ankara, as well as the port cities of Izmir and Adana.
There have been protests in 67 of Turkey’s 81 provinces in recent days, according to Turkey’s semi-official Andalou News Agency.
According to BBC, protesters say the Turkish government is becoming increasingly authoritarian. They fear Mr Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) is trying to impose conservative Islamic values on the officially secular country and infringe on their personal freedoms.
Officials say more than 1,700 people have been arrested in demonstrations in 67 towns and cities, though many have since been released. Late on Sunday, the White House said in a statement that all parties should “calm the situation”, and reaffirmed that peaceful demonstrations were “part of democratic expression”.
The US previously criticised the security forces for their initial response to the protest.
Overnight, protesters in the Besiktas district of Istanbul tore up paving stones to build barricades, and police responded with tear gas and water cannon. Mosques, shops and a university in Besiktas were turned into makeshift hospitals for those injured in Sunday night’s demonstration.
Several thousand people took part in the protest outside the recently decommissioned Besiktas football stadium.
Mr Erdogan says the protesters are undemocratic and have been provoked by the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP).

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