The protests in Turkey showed no signs of abating on the fourth consecutive day on Monday as protesters in Istanbul and other major cities fought pitched battles with the police who, taking their cue from a combative government, have shown no interest in a dialogue.
Protesters torched offices of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the early hours on Monday.
Unfazed by clashes with the police, who have been criticised by human rights groups and ordinary citizens for using excessive force, protesters are preparing for the long haul. At an avenue close to the Bosphorus — an international trade artery that divides the Asian and European parts of Istanbul — protesters pulled out slabs of concrete from pavements and street signs to set up barricades.
The Turkish newspaper Hurriyet Daily News has reported that young die-hard football fans — experienced in facing tear gas barrages from the police during post-match violence — seem to have steeled the protests, which began four days ago after security forces broke up a gathering at Istanbul’s iconic Taksim Square with baton charges and tear gas.
The gathering was to oppose a plan to the convert the Gezi Park in the area into a shopping mall. Analysts say pro-democracy activists saw it as an attempt to eliminate green spaces where peaceful protests can be staged. The perception that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was enforcing an Islamist agenda also seems to have reignited deep-seated anger among many in a country well-known for its deep Islamist-secularist divide. The secularists’ fears of political Islam’s deepening hold were reinforced by the government’s recent move to curb alcohol sales. The tussle between the two contesting ideologies was put in the spotlight when the Prime Minister proposed the construction of a mosque in place of a cultural centre dedicated to modern Turkey’s founding father Kamal Ataturk, an icon of secularism, reports the Hurriyet Daily News.
Refusing to see any merit in the protests, Mr. Erdogan attributed the upsurge of violence to the machinations of “extremist groups”.
Leaving for Morocco on Monday, Mr. Erdogan said in no way were the protests a manifestation of popular opinion, citing the victory of the AKP in three consecutive elections.
The Prime Minister also launched a tirade against social media, which swiftly internationalised the protests linking them to the Arab Spring revolts in West Asia. Mr. Erdogan flayed the micro-blogging site Twitter for spreading “unmitigated lies”. “There is a trouble called Twitter,” said Mr. Erdogan as quoted by the Turkish daily Radikal. “The thing that is called social media is a troublemaker in societies today.”
Amnesty International, the human-rights group, sharpened the international focus on the unfolding protests. “The use of tear gas against peaceful protesters and in confined spaces where it may constitute a serious danger to health is unacceptable, breaches international human rights standards and must be stopped immediately,” said Amnesty in a statement.
The nation-wide reach of the protests was brought into focus when around 1,000 people seeking the Prime Minister’s resignation braved teargas in Ankara on Monday. According to a count by Turkish Doctors Association, around 1,000 people have been injured during clashes in Istanbul and another 700 in Ankara.
Tension has also gripped the western province of Izmir and the province of Adana in the south.