Turkey protests continue despite attempts to calm situation

By bne IntelliNews June 5, 2013

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Protests across Turkey have continued into a sixth day on June 5, despite government comments the previous day designed to calm the situation.

On June 4, Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arnic apologised for "excessive violence" against protesters trying to save a park in Istanbul last week. The harsh police response to the small demonstration has seen it snowball to affect dozens of cities, revealing deeper tensions over the government's increasingly authoritarian tendencies and seemingly obliviousness to the rise in corruption.

Arnic is expected to meet with some of the protestors on June 5 in Ankara. However, police have again used tear gas and water cannon - overnight and this morning - on hundreds of protesters who ignored warnings to disperse in Istanbul, Ankara and the southeastern city of Hatay.

The markets remain stable thus far on June 5, after both stocks and bonds rebounded the previous day from huge losses incurred on June 3 - the first day of trading following a weekend of clashes. By midday, the main index on the Borsa Istanbul was essentially flat, after rebounding 4% on June 4. The equities' market's biggest advance in more than 16 months, the gains followed a 10% loss - the steepest in a decade - the previous day. Turkish bonds also rebounded June 4 after heavy losses, with the yield on two-year lira notes tumbling the most in at least eight years, according to Bloomberg.

Meanwhile, the authorities have begun cracking down on social media, which has largely taken the place of a cowed traditional media in covering the protests. At least 24 people were arrested in the coastal city of Izmir for encouraging rebellion over social media and tweeting "misleading and libellous information", according to the state-run Anatolia news agency.

Al Jazeera's Rawya Rageh, reporting from Ankara, said that protests on June 5 seem to be relatively calmer than the previous day. However, the arrests over social media use could reignite anger. They are reflective of accusations by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan - the target of much of the protests - that Twitter is being used to spread lies.

Turkish officials continue to try to link the protests to vaguely defined "terrorist" groups. Speaking at the American-Turkish Council's annual conference in Washington on June 4, also attended by US Vice President Joe Biden, Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan said the government respects the right to non-violent protest and free speech, but that it must also protect its citizens against violence. "There is a need for a strict distinction between the terrorist groups or illegal organisations versus citizens who are purely protesting on a non-violent basis," he said.

Meanwhile, Turkish businesses are beginning to feel the ire of protestors too, who have begun taking direct action over the failure of the traditional media to report on the clashes. Garanti Bank - sister company under Dogus Holding to the much maligned NTV station - admitted it has seen millions of dollars withdrawn and thousands of credit cards cancelled.

NTV was at the forefront of complaints that the media whitewashed the violence over the weekend. Following speculation of wide-scale fury amongst customers, and demonstrations at the headquarters of the TV station, Dogus and Garanti, the bank's share price dropped by over 13% on June 3, as the Istanbul Stock Exchange fell by 10.47%. Several dozen people staged a demonstration outside Garanti's Istanbul headquarters again on June 4.

The CEO of Turkey's third largest lender spoke to Reuters the same day in a clear bid to stop the rot. "Some customers have cancelled their cards and accounts," Ergun Ozen admitted, before insisting that such protest "has been limited". He said TRY35m-40m ($18.6m-21.2m) in funds has been withdrawn in the past week, while around 1,500 of Garanti's 8.5m credit cards have been cancelled.

Cem Aydin, CEO of Dogus, also sought to quell the anger, admitting that the criticism of NTV was "fair to a large extent," according to the BBC. Alongside many other Turkish TV channels, NTV failed to cover the early protests, prompting accusations that it had bowed to pressure from the government. "Our audience feels like they were betrayed," Aydin said after a meeting with staff, some of whom resigned in protest.

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