18th Mar 2018

'Turkish Spring' tests Erdogan's rule

  • Turkey's prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan says Twitter is a menace to society (Photo: svenwerk)

Violent clashes between protestors and police in Turkey over the weekend have seen its Prime Minister deny accusations that he is becoming a "dictator."

A violent crackdown on a peaceful demonstration on Friday (31 May) against plans to demolish a park and to erect a shopping centre in Taksim Square in central Istanbul quickly prompted a larger protest.

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Pent-up public frustration against heavy-handed government rule and perceived lack of accountability poured out into the streets in Turkey's largest city to be met head on by battalions of police.

The protest spread to 67 other cities and 81 provinces over the weekend, says the government.

An estimated 1,000 people have been injured in Istanbul and another 700 in Ankara, reports the Associated Press.

The streets around Taksim were on Monday littered with spent canisters of tear gas.

One 23-year-old student from Istanbul Technical University lost an eye after being shot at close range by police.

For her part, the EU’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said she “regrets disproportionate use of force by members of the Turkish police” in a statement on Sunday (2 June).

She called for calm and restraint on all sides.

Police eventually backed off on Sunday, as thousands remained in Taksim square.

The mood later turned festive, with people chanting victory slogans and calling Erdogan a "dictator."

But clashes were still reported late on Sunday evening in Istanbul's seaside neighbourhood of Besiktas.

Protests the same day also turned violent in Ankara.

The long-serving Prime Minister has won three mandates but is seen as becoming increasingly autocratic and Islamist by his critics.

Erdogan had imposed the Taksim construction project without public consultation despite widespread opposition.

Legislators recently enacted a controversial law restricting the sale of alcohol.

The authorities have also tightened media control.

Protestors turned to social media outlets like Twitter to get word out on the demonstrations because Turkey's mass-media channels refused to give them coverage.

Meanwhile Erdogan deplored the online services, calling social media society’s worst menace.

"There is now a menace which is called Twitter … the best examples of lies can be found there,” he said in a live speech on national TV.

His Justice and Development Party (AKP) government has been credited with turning around the country's economy and increasing its regional influence.

But it has failed to address worsening domestic human rights and a democratic deficit.

A 2012 progress report on Turkey by the European Union notes the excessive use of force and ill treatment by the police often goes unabated.

The public service has no judicial oversight.

The report complains about the controversial appointment of a police chief, who had faced past charges of torture and rape, to a key position in a counter-terror squad.

It also voices concern on freedom of expression.

The commission paper says the legal framework of Turkey’s anti-terrorism legislation is imprecise and open to abuse.

“In short, writing an article or making a speech can still lead to a court case and a long prison sentence,” it notes.

More than 2,800 students are in jail on terrorism-related charges.

Journalist and left-wing Kurdish scholars have also been detained.


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