Two days of violent encounters between Turkish police and demonstrators turned to three Sunday. Thousands of protesters kept control of Istanbul’s main square as the country’s prime minister vowed to move forward with the controversial development plan that provoked the clashes.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan called the demonstrators an “extremist fringe” and blamed the opposition Republican People’s Party for inciting the protests.
“We think that the main opposition party, which is making resistance calls on every street, is provoking these protests,” Erdogan said on Turkish television. Meanwhile, an estimated 10,000 protesters again covered the city’s main square with flags and filled the air with calls for Erdogan to resign.
The demonstrations began May 27 as a relatively small, peaceful event aimed at saving an inner city park from being turned into an Ottoman-style shopping center. The action rapidly developed into the largest and most violent anti-government protests Turkey has seen in years.
Hundreds have been injured by the aggressive police response and immoderate use of teargas. Riot police gave a victory to the demonstrators when they withdrew from the city Saturday evening. Some people were badly injured.
Erdogan has refused without apology to back off of the development project.
“I am not going to seek the permission of [the opposition] or a handful of plunderers,” he said. “If they call someone who has served the people a ‘dictator’, I have nothing to say. My only concern has been to serve my country … I am not the master of the people. Dictatorship does not run in my blood or in my character. I am the servant of the people.”
See dramatic images of the conflicts here and video footage here.
—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.
The protests spread across Turkey to half of its 81 provinces, the interior ministry said. It added that 939 people had been arrested in 90 demonstrations all over the country, while damage costs have not yet been announced.
“Erdogan does not listen to anyone any more,” said Koray Caliskan, a political scientist at Istanbul’s Bosphorus University. “Not even to members of his own party. But after the protests this weekend, he will have to accept that he is the prime minister of a democratic country, and that he cannot rule it on his own.”
The dramatic events also exposed the complicity and almost complete government control of mainstream Turkish media, which largely failed to report the protests.
“The Turkish media have embarrassed themselves,” Caliskan said. “While the whole world was broadcasting from Taksim Square, Turkish television stations were showing cooking shows. It is now very clear that we do not have press freedom in Turkey.”
Demonstrators gather at Gezi Park in the area of Taksim Square on Sunday during a third day of nationwide anti-government protests in Istanbul.