4 Jun 2013

Turkish deputy PM ‘sorry’ for violence – but is it too late?

Turkey’s deputy prime minister apologises to protesters for “excessive violence” used by police. But after five days of civil strife, are events inside the country spiralling out of control?

The comments by Bulent Arinc, who took charge of the government after Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan left on a visit to north Africa, contrasted with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s description of the protesters as “looters”.

He said that the initial protests over the redevelopment of Gezi Park were “just and legitimate”, but that the protests had been taken over by more extremist elements.

Mr Arinc also said that he would meet some of the organisers of the original protest.

“The excessive violence that was used in the first instance against those who were behaving with respect for the environment was wrong and unfair. I apologise to those citizens,” he said.

The excessive violence used in the first instance against those who were behaving with respect for the environment was wrong and unfair – Bulent Arinc

But he added: “I do not think we need to apologise to those who create destruction of public property in the streets and who try to prevent the freedom of the people in the streets.”

It is unclear whether the prime minister agrees with Mr Arinc’s comments however. He is currently visiting Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, and has undermined statements made by government ministers in the past.

Death during protest

Thousands have joined anti-government rallies across Turkey since Friday, when police launched a pre-dawn raid against a peaceful sit-in protesting plans to uproot trees in Istanbul’s main Taksim Square. But the demonstrations by mostly secular-minded Turks have spiraled into the country’s biggest anti-government protests in years, and have spread to many of the biggest cities.

The apology follows the death of a 22-year-old man during a rally near the Syrian border. Abdullah Comert, reportedly died in the town of Antakya.

Television channel NTV said he was demonstrating to show support for a wider protest against Mr Erdogan’s policies, and said he was shot in the head. It was not immediately clear who opened fire at the Antakya rally, the governor’s office statement said.

Comert was a member of the main opposition Republican People’s Party’s (CHP) youth branch, NTV reported.

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‘Warning strike’

On Tuesday, Turkey’s leftist Public Workers Unions Confederation (KESK), which represents 240,000 members, began a two-day “warning strike” at midday to protest at the police crackdown on what had begun as peaceful protests.

In a response to Turkey’s worst riots in years, Mr Erdogan said the protesters were “arm in arm with terrorism”.

Barricades of rubble hindered traffic alongside the Bosphorus waterway and blocked entry into Istanbul’s main Taksim Square after clashes overnight. Leftist groups hung out red and black flags, and banners calling on Mr Erdogan to resign, declaring: “Whatever happens, there is no going back.”

He has said that to re-make Taksim Square, long a rallying point for demonstrations, would go ahead, including construction of a new mosque and the rebuilding of a replica Ottoman-era barracks.