Erdogan said authorities would hold and honor a plebiscite on the future of Gezi Park near Taksim square, whose proposed development touched off two weeks of clashes between protesters and police that have sent Turkish markets plummeting.
The protesters’ genuine demands have been heard, and now they must leave the park and Taksim, the Turkish leader said.
“Our patience is coming to an end,” Erdogan said. “I am warning for the last time.”
Hundreds of riot police, armed with pepper spray, batons and riot shields, stood on guard around the square, where water cannons were also deployed. Neither Erdogan’s warning nor the police deployment had any immediate effect on the protesters, who made no move to pack up their tents or prepare to leave.
“They’re coming,” said Gokhan Samlioglu, a student, as he handed out drinks and sandwiches to protesters at a free food stall in Gezi Park. “But the more the police threaten us, the more people will come here.”
Mehmet Uzunkaya of the Taksim Solidarity Group, a group that has spoken on behalf of demonstrators, vowed to stay put until development plans are scrapped. “They will never defeat us or scare us away from here,” Uzunkaya said.
The unrest, which spread to dozens of communities nationwide after it erupted in Istanbul on May 31, has presented Erdogan with one of the biggest challenges to his power since he took office more then 10 years ago. The spectacle of tens of thousands of demonstrators marching in city streets and police turning tear gas, water cannons and truncheons on protesters has battered Turkish markets.
At least four people have died in clashes. The Turkish Medical Association says more than 4,000 people have been treated at hospitals, and Erdogan said 600 police were among the wounded. The demonstrators say Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted government has been emboldened by three successive and electoral victories to act in increasingly autocratic ways.
Turkish officials have acknowledged that police used excessive force. Still, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu dismissed the European Parliament’s rebuke today, saying “Turkey doesn’t have to take lessons from anyone.”
Several thousand protesters went to Taksim late yesterday, chanting anti-government slogans as police looked on. The previous night, riot squads had used tear gas and water cannons to drive tens of thousands out of the square, the center of the unrest.
Istanbul Governor Huseyin Avni Mutlu said the police action was aimed at unidentified extremist groups who had joined the protesters.
Taksim remained calm throughout the day yesterday and early today, as municipal workers swept up piles of litter and started scrubbing off anti-government slogans sprayed on walls, while trucks carted off barricades erected by the protesters.
Erdogan has blamed the unrest on unidentified financial speculators and extremist groups exploiting environmental concerns.
Turkish stocks extended gains today, with the main index adding 1 percent at 4:40 p.m. in Istanbul. Still, it’s down 9.6 percent this month.
Yields on two-year benchmark bonds dropped 6 basis points to 6.74 percent, after reaching a seven-month high on June 11. The central bank tightened liquidity that day to shield the lira, and the currency has since rebounded, adding 0.5 percent to 1.8652 per dollar today.
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