Turkey faces nationwide strike as clashes continue in Istanbul, Ankara

By bne IntelliNews June 17, 2013

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Turkey faces a one-day nationwide strike on Monday, June 17 to protest against the police crackdown on anti-government demonstrations, which Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan angrily justified at a counter-rally of his Justice and Development Party (AKP) on Sunday, June 16.

Addressing tens of thousands of supporters in Istanbul, Erdogan kept to his tough stance since the beginning of the protests two and a half weeks ago, saying had been his duty to order the eviction of the protesters in the city's Gezi Park the previous night. The protests, he was quoted by newswires as telling the crowd, were "nothing more than the minority's attempt to dominate the majority... We could not have allowed this and we will not allow it."

He also continued his criticism of the foreign media, blaming the BBC and CNN for distorting the drama of the past few weeks in what he repeatedly alleged was an international plot to divide and diminish Turkey, and vowed to "identify one by one those who have terrorised the streets."

Erdogan carried through with his threat to have Taksim Square and neighbouring Gezi Park cleared of demonstrators on Saturday, June 15. But the police actions sparked the worst rioting seen since the standoff began on May 31. Clashes between police and protesters have continued during Sunday, June 15 and overnight in surrounding areas. Newswires reported disturbances in streets around Taksim Square and Gezi Park and around the Galata bridge, which crosses the Sultanahmet district, with dozens of protesters detained in Istanbul and in Ankara. A member of parliament for the opposition People's Republican Party was beaten by police, a spokesman told the BBC.

Gezi Park and Taksim Square have been the epicentre of the protests that have rocked this country. What began as small-scale protests over government plans (said to be personally supervised by the micro-managing PM) to raise the park and build a shopping centre, mosque and Ottoman-era army barracks morphed into country-wide demonstrations against Erdogan and what is being perceived as his increasingly authoritarian and Islamist rule for the past decade. Heavy-handed police actions have resulted in at least four deaths, thousands of injured and untold damage to the country's reputation as an emerging regional political and economic power.

Hours after a hard-line speech on Saturday, June 15, there followed a lightning strike by the police later that night, with riot squads taking just 30 minutes to dislodge the protesters, who newswires said were clearly taken by surprise. Taksim Solidarity, an umbrella group of protest movements, said an unknown number of people in the park had been injured, some by rubber bullets.

The BBC's James Reynolds, who was at the park, says the officers advanced slowly, wearing gas masks and carrying riot shields, amid a cloud of white tear gas. While most protesters chose to leave to avoid getting hurt by water cannon and rubber bullets, some regrouped in nearby streets, creating running battles with police, who continued firing more tear gas in an effort to disperse them, and causing protests to break out in other parts of the city, which have continued.

The KESK and DISK union federations, which represent hundreds of thousands of workers across the country, said in a joint statement that they would call a strike on Monday, June 17 over the eviction of demonstrators from Gezi Park. "Our demand is for police violence to end immediately," KESK spokesman Baki Cinar told the AFP news agency. Associations representing doctors, engineers and dentists have said they too will support it.

There are also fears that the markets - which rallied on Friday, June 14 after a meeting between Erdogan and a group representing the demonstrators agreed the government would not start the construction of a commercial development in Gezi Park until a court case against the plans had concluded - will take resume their downward path.

Oguz Kaan Salici, Istanbul president of the main opposition People's Republican Party, told The Guardian: "The police brutality aims at clearing the streets of Istanbul to make way for Erdogan's meeting [of AKP supporters on Sunday, June 16). Yet it will backfire. People feel betrayed."

However, the AKP is putting the blame squarely on the shoulders of the protestors, who undoubtedly span many different groups, from those concerned only with the fate of Gezi park to those who want to unseat Erdogan. A spokesman for AKP blamed the protesters for allegedly reneging on a deal with Erdogan thrashed out two nights before. "A country's prime minister meets you for 10 hours, you reach an agreement then say something else behind his back," Huseyin Celik said in TV interviews, referring to the fact the protestors didn't disperse. "Wouldn't you feel cheated?"

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