Turkey Premier, President Clash over Reaction to Protests; President Defends Dissent, but Premier Criticizes Demonstrations against Rule

St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), June 4, 2013 | Go to article overview

Turkey Premier, President Clash over Reaction to Protests; President Defends Dissent, but Premier Criticizes Demonstrations against Rule


ANKARA, Turkey * Turkish riot police launched round after round of tear gas against protesters on Monday, the fourth day of violent demonstrations, as the president and the prime minister staked competing positions on the unrest.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan rejected the protesters' demands that he resign and dismissed the demonstrations as the work of Turkey's opposition. President Abdullah Gul, for his part, praised the mostly peaceful protesters as expressing their democratic rights.

The two men could face off next year in Turkey's presidential election.

Turkey has been rocked by violent demonstrations since Friday, when police launched a pre-dawn raid against a peaceful sit-in protesting plans to uproot trees in Istanbul's main Taksim Square. Since then, the demonstrations by mostly secular-minded Turks have spiraled into Turkey's biggest anti-government disturbances in years.

Turkey's main stock exchange dropped 10.5 percent Monday as investors worried about the destabilizing effect of the demonstrations.

The Turkish Doctors' Association said one protester died after a vehicle slammed into a crowd in Istanbul but the governor's office insisted the man's death was accidental. The doctors' group also said eight people hurt in Ankara were in critical condition.

The protests are seen as a display of frustration with Erdogan, whom critics say has become increasingly authoritarian. Many accuse him of forcing his conservative, religious Islamic outlook on the lives of secular Turks.

Erdogan rejects the accusations, insisting he respects all sections of Turkish society and has no desire to infringe on different lifestyles. He has also rejected accusations of being authoritarian, saying: "I am not a master but a servant" of the people.

But he does believe the protests have a deeply political purpose.

"The protests weren't about the squares or the trees, some parties were not happy about results of the elections," Erdogan said late Monday while on a visit to Morocco. "The situation is a lot calmer now and reason seems to be prevailing. …

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