Thousands defy Turkish prime minister Erdogan's call to end unrest

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 June, 2013, 5:16pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 09 June, 2013, 7:13am

Thousands of angry Turks took to the streets yesterday to join anti-government protests, defying Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's call to end the worst civil unrest of his decade-long rule.

Protesters blew whistles and waved flags in Istanbul's Taksim Square, the epicentre of the protests which erupted on May 31, while others brought blankets and food to settle in for the weekend at the adjoining Gezi Park.

The ruling Justice and Development party meanwhile held a lengthy meeting and Huseyin Celik, deputy chairman, said there was no plan for early elections as opposition demanded.

He said while the government would listen to "legitimate demands" from the people, elections would only take place as planned in 2015.

On Friday, Erdogan called for an immediate end to the protests, saying his Islamist-rooted government was open to "democratic demands" but insisting that the protests were "bordering on vandalism".

Turkey's trouble began when police cracked down heavily on a small campaign to save Gezi Park from demolition, spiralling into nationwide demos against Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP), seen as increasingly authoritarian.

Police have used tear gas and water cannon to disperse demonstrators, leaving three dead in clashes that have tarnished Turkey's image as a model of Islamic democracy.

Faced with international criticism of his handling of the crisis, Erdogan accused Western allies of double standards after EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule urged a "swift and transparent" probe into police abuses in Turkey, a longtime EU hopeful.

Speaking at the same Istanbul conference, Erdogan issued a sharp retort, saying those involved in a similar protest would "face a harsher response" in any European country.

But the premier, who has dismissed the protesters as "a few looters" manipulated by extremists, added in a more conciliatory tone: "I'm open-hearted to anyone with democratic demands."

Demonstrators dug in their heels overnight, with thousands massing peacefully in festive Taksim, while others took to the streets in other Turkish cities banging pots and pans as they marched in protest.