Two weeks ago a
small demonstration started because of the Turkish government’s plan to tear
down a small park in the center of Istanbul, and replace it with a
shopping area. That demonstration has turned into a major protest against Islamist Prime
Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The park has long been an iconic rallying
point for mass demonstrations and its destruction was seen as a fight
against free expression. Erdogan blamed the main secular opposition party for
inciting the crowds, and said the protests were aimed at depriving his
ruling AK Party of votes as elections begin next year.

Today the Islamist Prime Minister indicated that his patience was wearing thin:

“To those who… are at Taksim and elsewhere taking part in the demonstrations with sincere feelings: I call on you to leave those places and to end these incidents and I send you my love.

“But for those who want to continue with the incidents I say: ‘It’s over.’ As of now we have no tolerance for them.

“Not only will we end the actions, we will be at the necks of the provocateurs and terrorists and no-one will get away with it,” he continued.

“I am sorry but Gezi Park is for taking promenades, not for occupation.

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 He didn’t wait very long to begin his attempt to drive them out.

Tens of thousands of protesters returned to the square in the evening, in a show of defiance met with tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons, hours after riot police had forced their way past improvised barricades to clear the square of protesters occupying the area for the past 12 days.Hundreds more vowed to continue their sit-in at Taksim’s adjacent Gezi Park..

The unrest has spread to 78 cities across the country, with protesters championing their objections to what they say is the prime minister’s increasingly authoritarian style and his perceived attempts to impose a religious and conservative lifestyle in a country with secular laws — charges he rejects.

Yesterday, it seemed as if Erdogan was trying to calm the situation down by announcing he would meet with the demonstrators but that was just a ruse.

“The relative calm yesterday was deceptive,” said Robert O’Daly, Turkey analyst for the Economist Intelligence Unit.

“Mr. Erdogan’s offer of dialogue appears to have been merely tactical. The appearance of riot police in the square this morning and renewed use of teargas against the protesters fits better with his defiant rhetoric,” said O’Daly.

Erdogan words, were accompanied by the repeated rounds of tear gas tonight that left many choking for breath, seemed to gird the resolve of many in the park rather than weaken it.

“People are definitely going to stay. The more the police attack, the more people come and stay,” said Melda, a 29-year-old cook who rushed to the park Tuesday morning when she heard of the police intervention. Fearful of losing her job for participating in the protests, she asked that her surname not be use

In Taksim, unrest continued into the night. The tens of thousands of protesters who returned in the evening were met with more rounds of tear gas, which was also fired into the park. Students clutching surgical masks, women in summer dresses and sandals, and boys selling gas masks ran through the trees for cover from the plumes of acrid chemicals that spewed out of canisters fired by riot police.

Istanbul Governor Huseyin Avni Mutlu asked peaceful protesters to stay away from Taksim until it was cleared of “marginal groups.” He said some 30,000-35,000 had gathered as police stood by. Police fired tear gas to disperse them because some attacked police.

Ambulances ferried away the injured. Before the evening clashes, more than 300 people had already been treated in a makeshift infirmary set up in the park, most for the effects of tear gas, said volunteer Selin Akuner. Twelve had suffered head injuries.

In the square, water cannons doused a man in a wheelchair carrying a Turkish flag as a phalanx of helmeted officers moved forward. Plainclothes officers in gas masks yanked down banners for the second time in a day.

Turkey was a relatively “westernized” country till Erdogan took over ten
years ago, since that time there has been a tension between the
military, the Islamists and the people wishing the country would return
to its less repressive “secular ways.”

It is very interesting that President Obama who was so fast to take the side of the Protesters in Egypt and other Muslim countries when protests erupted is silent when it comes to Turkey.

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