The Turkish Government May Be Massively Underestimating Ongoing Nationwide Protests

turkey

On Sunday tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Turkey, clashing with riot police in the fiercest anti-government protests since Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government assumed power in 2002.

Ergodan dismissed the protestors, whom he called “looters” and “bums,” and The Washington Post reports that “Sunday brought moments of calm in Istanbul and Ankara.”

But all signs point to deep civil discontent that is being stoked by a brutal police crackdown.

The turmoil began Friday when a demonstration against the removal of trees from a park in Istanbul’s Taksim Square — a popular gathering place for the country’s labour movement — transformed into a broad show of defiance against Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP).

More than 90 demonstrations in including 67 of Turkey’s 81 provinces, including 48 cities nationwide.

More than 1,700 people have been arrested (though many have since been released). Human rights groups such as Amnesty International have condemned the excessive force employed by police.

“This park was just the ignition of all that,” Yakup Efe Tuncay, a 28-year-old demonstrator in the park told CNN. “The Erdogan government is usually considered as authoritarian. He has a big ego; he has this Napoleon syndrome. He takes himself as a sultan. … He needs to stop doing that. He’s just a prime minister.”

Erdogan — who is intent on demolishing the park — blamed the main secular opposition party for riling up the crowds.

Taksim SquareTaksim Square is an important place to workers engaged in protest about rights, freedoms, and general labour conditions

Luke Rodeheffer, a graduate student and analyst focusing on Eurasian geopolitics, has posted pictures from the ground and provided us with this update from Turkey’s largest city:

The atmosphere in Taksim square and Istiklal boulevard in the Istanbul’s city centre is one of revelry, as police have abandoned the region to demonstrators, who alternate between dancing and chanting slogans calling for the government’s resignation. The demonstrators continue to gather in the area around Gezi Park, the public space that originally was slated for demolition by the government, sparking protests that mushroomed as result of heavy-handed police tactics.

In the neighbouring region of Beşiktaş, however, clashes between police and protesters continue, with huge quantities of tear gas being deployed by law enforcement. The situation also remains tense in the capital of Ankara, where demonstrators continue to fight police in pitched street battles.

The protests have quickly spread outside of Istanbul and Ankara: enormous demonstrations were held today in Izmir, Kayseri, and other Turkish cities in support of the protesters, but did not draw nearly as much attention because of their comparatively peaceful nature.

In Antalya, about 300 people broke off from the crowd of about 15,000 and began chanting and throwing rocks at the headquarters of the ruling party, the Justice and Development Party (AKP), before being hit with tear gas and water cannons.

Protesters have quickly exploited social media to spread the word about the latest news and provide continuous updates on the protests. Online media is buzzing with the latest information on police tactics and statements from international figures on the unfolding events, as well as links to live feed of the ongoing protests around Turkey.

Statements by the Prime Minister since the beginning of the unrest have only further inflamed public protest. Appearing on TV to defend a recently passed law curbing alcohol sale and advertisement, he claimed that anyone who consumed alcohol was an alcoholic.

He has lashed out at users of social media, which has been a major vehicle for organising protests around the country, claiming that Twitter and Facebook were being used to spread lies about the government and claiming that he can mobilize 1 million Turks in support of his policies.

Erdoğan also attempted to brush off the demonstrations as provocations by the main opposition group, the Republican Peoples Party, but the scope of the demonstrations has expanded beyond party boundaries to include a variety of groups.

The dissidence has caught the attention of Anonymous — the amorphous hacker collective has been providing regular updates, defacing government websites, and disseminating instructions for connecting to the Internet in the event it’s shut off.

All things considered — including the sectarian war grinding on in neighbouring Syria — the protests and the Turkish government’s response to them may be much more significant than the Ergodan is making it out to be.

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