Dozens of protesters arrested in Turkey

Tuesday 18 June 2013 21.05
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A new form of protest has developed in Taksim Square
A new form of protest has developed in Taksim Square
Anti-government protesters chanted slogans and waved flags during a demonstration in Ankara
Anti-government protesters chanted slogans and waved flags during a demonstration in Ankara

A lone, silent vigil by a man in Istanbul inspired copycat protests today, as police detained dozens of people across Turkey.

The police operation linked follows three weeks of demonstrations against Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan.

Overnight in Ankara, riot police used teargas and water cannon to disperse hundreds of people who had gathered in and around the government quarter of Kizilay.

But in stark contrast to the recent fierce clashes in several cities, hundreds of protesters merely stood in silence in Istanbul, inspired by a man who lit up social media by doing just that for eight hours in the city's Taksim Square yesterday.

"I am just an ordinary citizen of this country," Erdem Gunduz, dubbed the "Standing Man" on Twitter, told Hurriyet TV.

"We want our voices to be heard."

As dusk fell today, hundreds followed his lead, standing quietly and facing either a giant portrait of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of modern Turkey, or a phalanx of police officers keeping watch over the crowd a short distance away.

Interior Minister Muammer Guler said 62 people had been detained in Istanbul, and 23 in the capital, Ankara.

The state broadcaster, TRT, said 13 had been held in Eskisehir.

Protests have frequently turned into clashes between police firing teargas and water cannon and masked demonstrators throwing bottles and other missiles, images that have dented Turkey's reputation for stability.

Western countries have expressed concern about the police's handling of the protests against Mr Erdogan.

He has won three successive elections, the last with 50% support.

Critics accuse him of disregarding the half of the population who did not vote for him, and some say he has connived to subvert the secular constitution and create an order based on religious principles – something Mr Erdogan denies.

The 59-year-old has struck a defiant tone throughout the unrest, which poses the greatest challenge to a ten-year rule marked by an economic boom and a drive to extend Turkey's influence beyond its frontiers.

"In the face of a comprehensive and systematic movement of violence, the police displayed an unprecedented democratic stance and successfully passed the test of democracy," he told members of his ruling AK Party in parliament.

"The police have been represented as using violence. Who used violence? All of the terrorists, the anarchists, the rioters," he said in a speech punctuated by loud cheers.

Officials have sought to distinguish between those they consider legitimate protesters and others described variously as "riff-raff" and "terrorists".

But Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), goaded the leader.

"The master of dictators was not even able to be an apprentice of democracy," he told party members. "We have a prime minister who has lost his dignity."

The unrest began as a small action by environmentalists opposed to government plans to build a replica Ottoman-era barracks on Gezi Park, one of the few green spaces in the centre of the teeming city of Istanbul.

But it has broadened to a protest movement against what Mr Erdogan's critics say is his domineering style and tendency to interfere in people's private lives - a tendency some opponents say is driven by Erdogan's Islamic faith.

The violence, which has abated significantly since Istanbul saw some of the worst clashes so far on Saturday, has left four people dead, including one policeman, and about 7,500 injured, according to the Turkish Medical Association.

Today, Cem Oezdemir, the co-chair of Germany's opposition Greens party, who is of Turkish origin, joined the international chorus of condemnation of Mr Erdogan's handling of the unrest.

"Erdogan will no longer be able to travel the world presenting himself as a reformer and a moderniser," he said in an interview published in the German newspaper Die Welt. "He won't be able to shake off the images of brutal violence."

Ban concerned by clashes

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon this afternoon expressed alarm at the violence in Turkey.

"[Mr Ban] remains concerned about ongoing clashes between protesters and security personnel," UN spokesman Eduardo del Buey said.

"The Secretary General urges maximum restraint and the pursuit of constructive dialogue in order to resolve differences and avoid further violent confrontation."