Turkish activists set demands to end strife

25 social media ‘agitators’ arrested, while deputy PM meets protesters in Ankara to defuse tension

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 June, 2013, 2:43am


Activists yesterday presented a list of demands they said could end days of anti-government demonstrations that have engulfed Turkey, as police detained 25 people accused of using social media to stoke the outpouring of anger.

In a move to defuse the tension, the deputy prime minister met a group whose attempt to prevent authorities from ripping up trees in Istanbul's landmark Taksim Square has snowballed into nationwide protests against what demonstrators see as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's increasingly authoritarian rule.

Police have deployed water cannons and tear gas has clouded the country's city centres. The Ankara-based Human Rights Association says nearly 1,000 people have been injured and 3,300 detained over five days of protests.

The activist group denounced Erdogan's "vexing" style and urged the government to halt Taksim Square redevelopment plans, ban the use of tear gas by police, the immediate release of all detained protesters and the lifting of restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly.

It also demanded that officials - including governors and senior police officials - responsible for the violent crackdown be removed from office.

The protests appear to have developed spontaneously and remain leaderless. It was not at all certain that the tens of thousands of protesters would heed any call by the group to cease.

The group of academics, architects and environmentalists, known as the Taksim Solidarity Platform, was formed to protect Taksim Square from development, including the rebuilding of an Ottoman army barracks and a shopping mall. The protests were sparked by fury over a heavy-handed pre-dawn police raid on Friday to roust activists camping out in an attempt to stop the plans.

Protests appeared to calm a bit yesterday, even as thousands of trade unionists on a two-day strike marched to Taksim and central Ankara.

Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc, who is standing in for Erdogan while he is on a trip to Northern Africa, has offered an olive branch to protesters, apologising for what he said was a "wrong and unjust" crackdown on the sit-in. Erdogan had inflamed protesters, calling them "looters" and extremists, and refusing to back away from plans to revamp Taksim.

"The steps the government takes from now on will define the course of society's reaction," Eyup Muhcu, the head of a chamber of architects, said after meeting Arinc.

Police, meanwhile, detained 25 people for "spreading untrue information" on social media and allegedly inciting people to join the protests. They were detained late on Tuesday in the city of Izmir, western Turkey.

Police were looking for 13 others. The people were wanted for allegedly "inciting enmity and hatred".

But a lawyer for the suspects, Sevda Erdan Kilic, responded: "There is nothing there to provoke the people [into rioting]. They are sentiments that we all share."