Faced with growing protests, the Turkish government has for the first time adopted a softer tone, blaming the police for using excessive force initially on protests that subsequently spiralled into a massive and violent show of nationwide discontent.
The shift in tactics — from combative to conciliatory — was signalled by Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc. Turkey’s Hurriyet Daily News quoted Mr. Arinc as saying on Tuesday the first protests at the iconic Gezi Park in Istanbul’s Taksim area were legitimate, and that the police had used excessive force.
Videos of the event, which showed the security forces using batons and later heavy doses of pepper spray and tear gas on protesters, went viral online, internationalising the incident and drawing condemnation.
Mr. Arinc apologised to the injured at Taksim Square protesting out of environmental concerns. He said the protocol of police response during unrest demanded that tear gas could only be used in self defence. He described the assemblage against demolition of the park to enable the emergence of a shopping mall as “legitimate and patriotic”. “Our citizens have showed their legitimate, logical and righteous reaction at Gezi Park,” observed Mr. Arinc.
Analysts say that five days into the protests, the government has decided to tackle the unrest by separating the initial batch of peaceful protesters from those who may have jumped into the fray to take advantage of the chaos. “I do not think we need to apologise to those who create destruction of public property in the streets and who try to prevent the freedom of the people in the streets,” said Mr. Arinc.
The apparent climb down by the government, and the pursuit of a more nuanced approach to tackle the crisis, has come a day after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned that intelligence agencies were looking for leads that could reveal possible foreign orchestration of the protests. The combative Prime Minister had also slammed characterisation of the street activism as the beginning of a “Turkish Spring”. The country was already experiencing a Turkish Spring, said Mr. Erdogan, warning he would not allow it to turn it into a winter.
Turkey’s seething protests have so far claimed two lives; one in Istanbul and another in the southern city of Antakya. The left-wing Kesk trade union confederation, representing some 240,000 workers, has joined the Taksim campaigners by going on a two-day strike.