Turkish demonstrators clashed with police last night and a second protester was killed, as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan predicted an early end to the unrest while the U.S. urged police restraint.
A 22-year-old man was shot dead by unidentified gunmen during an anti-government rally in the southern province of Hatay, local Governor Mehmet Celalettin Lekesiz said. One person had been killed in Istanbul on June 2 when a car drove into a crowd of protesters. Hundreds of people remained on the streets of Istanbul and the capital Ankara overnight, battling police who fired tear gas, and there were clashes in other cities.
Erdogan told reporters in Morocco, where he arrived yesterday at the start of a visit to North Africa, that the rallies will end within a day or two and were organized by people unable to defeat him in elections. Before leaving, he blamed the unrest on “extreme elements” working together with the main opposition party, and said Turkey’s democracy means the protests can’t be compared with the Arab Spring.
In Istanbul, thousands gathered again late yesterday in Taksim Square. Plans for the redevelopment of a park there sparked the rallies that have escalated nationwide since May 31 into the fiercest anti-government protests in years, and broadened to target what the demonstrators say is the Islamist-rooted Erdogan’s autocratic style. Their grievances include alleged police brutality, curbs on alcohol sales and restrictions on labor unions.
There were clashes between police and a separate group of protesters in the nearby Besiktas district. In Ankara, police used gas and water cannons against a group of mostly young demonstrators. In both cities, barricades erected by the protesters on central roads remain in place.
In Washington, Secretary of State John Kerry said the U.S. is “deeply concerned” about the levels of violence in Turkey, a close ally. He said that the U.S. supports the right to peaceful protest and is “concerned about the reports of excessive use of force by police,” calling for “full restraint” and an investigation.
Turkey’s benchmark stock index pared losses today after slumping 10.5 percent yesterday, the most in more than a decade. It rose 3.1 percent at 10 a.m. in Istanbul. Yields on two-year lira bonds fell 46 basis points to 6.32 percent, after a 71 basis-point surge yesterday that was the biggest on record.
Labor unions announced plans to support the protests. The public-sector union group Kesk said it will go on strike today and may extend the action for a second day, Hurriyet said. Another labor group, Disk, said in an e-mailed statement that it will hold an emergency meeting today and threatened to “bring life to a halt” if the government doesn’t retreat.
Erdogan has presided over an economic boom and won three elections, each with an increased share of the vote, making him less vulnerable to the kind of unrest that swept away longtime leaders in Egypt and other Middle East countries two years ago.
He may, though, come under pressure to moderate a style of governing that has seen personal edicts, on issues ranging from the content of popular television shows to the role of parliament, transformed into proposals for new laws. Erdogan is currently seeking support for a new constitution that would allow the president to issue decrees with force of law, dissolve parliament, call elections and decide whether to use the army.
President Abdullah Gul sounded a conciliatory note, calling for calm in a speech in Ankara yesterday. He said that the protesters’ message had been received and called it a test for Turkey’s democracy, which he said isn’t just about elections. Gul is a longtime ally of Erdogan, though local media have reported strains between them in recent years. Erdogan said he did not understand what Gul meant by saying that “message had been received,” reminding that the only way to ”democracy goes through the ballot box.”
Turkey will hold its first public vote for the presidency next year when Gul’s term ends, and there’s speculation Erdogan may stand. Parliamentary elections are due the year after. Erdogan has been seeking support for constitutional changes that would increase the powers of the office, currently largely symbolic. His party would need backing from at least one other group in the legislature to get the measures through. The main opposition parties are against the plan.
There were clashes over the weekend in 67 cities, Interior Minister Muammer Guler told reporters on June 2. He said 115 policemen were among those injured. Protesters targeted offices of Erdogan’s party in Antalya and Tunceli provinces yesterday, NTV television said.
The protests began when police fired tear gas to clear demonstrators out of Gezi Park near Taksim, where they were resisting what they said were plans to cut down trees and build a new complex including a shopping center. Activists used social media sites to organize gatherings, while local media mostly played down the events.