Turkey's protests continue but methods change

By bne IntelliNews June 20, 2013

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Turkey's street protests have been brought to a standstill, literally.

After Turkish police last weekend forcibly cleared Istanbul's Taksim Square and neighbouring Gezi Park of the protestors that had demonstrated there for the previous two weeks, thousands of people are now expressing their anger with Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan and his Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) by standing silent and motionless in Turkey's streets and squares - a new tactic that they hope will deter police violence.

The trend for standing still was launched by performance artist Erdem Gunduz, who stood silently for hours in Taksim Square on the night of June 17 as the police fired tear gas and used water cannon to clear the area on Erdogan's orders. Within hours, the image of "duran adam" - Turkish for standing man - had gone around the world via Twitter. Protesters in many other Turkish cities followed his example.

People all over the country are now finding alternative ways to express their discontent: beating on pots and pans in the evening, whistling, clapping their hands, or switching lights on and off. "The police operation may have scattered the chanting, marching crowds - but the demonstrators are turning silence and stillness into a new form of resistance," says Deutsche Welle.

The aggressive police response to the anti-government protests in Turkey since a local building dispute exploded into more general country-wide demonstrations against Erdogan and what is being perceived as his increasingly authoritarian and Islamist rule for the past decade have resulted in at least four deaths and tens of thousands injured.

Erdogan and his government has been heavily criticised for the way they have dealt with the protests. Part of the reason is certainly the PM's prickly nature and inability to deal with criticism, as well as the fact he has reportedly personally supervised the plans to raise the park and build a shopping centre, mosque and Ottoman-era army barracks.

On Monday, June 17 public workers of three major Turkish trade unions tried and failed to stage a mass protest. After being barred from Taksim Square, they picked another street, but the turnout was so low that the protest had little visual impact, leaving people to find new ways of demonstrating as police continue to make arrests.

The government's attitude to the new forms of protests appears, for now, to be less aggressive. Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arınc told reporters on Wednesday, June 19 that the government doesn't intend to condemn "the standing person," and such peaceful protests should actually be supported. "This is not a violent process, it is a peaceful one. We are not in a position to condemn this," Arinc was quoted by Hurriyet Daily News as saying.

Turkey's financial markets have taken a pounding over the past few weeks as the recent wave of protests caused investors to take fright, though on Wednesday, June 19 Turkey's lira gained for the first time in three days and bond yields rose after the central bank offered zero funding at its one-week repo auction for a second time in little over a week, tightening funding for lenders, according to Bloomberg. The Borsa Istanbul Stock Exchange National 100 Index ended the day up 1.4% at 78,835.

However, Turkey and other emerging markets are expected to remain under pressure as US credit markets were battered on Wednesday, June 19 after US Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke signalled a possible end to its asset purchase programme later this year.

According to Tim Ash of Standard Bank, Turkey remains amongst the most vulnerable emerging market economies to Fed tapering off its quantitative easing due to the still large current account deficit of around $50bn, weight of short-term debt of about $155bn, and weight of portfolio funds invested, another $50bn on an annualised basis. "I was at the [central bank Wednesday], and the central bank did not really give a convincing argument as how they would manage the Fed, or their own exit. Add into this the heightened level of domestic political risk, associated with recent demonstrations and this adds another layer of vulnerability."

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