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Turkey Unions Join Protests Amid Crackdown on Social Media

Protestors light torches in Taksim Square on June 4, 2013 in Istanbul. Photographer: Uriel Sinai/Getty Images
Protestors light torches in Taksim Square on June 4, 2013 in Istanbul. Photographer: Uriel Sinai/Getty Images

June 5 (Bloomberg) -- Labor unions joined protests against the government in the center of Turkey’s two biggest cities as arrest warrants were issued for dozens of people charged with spreading false information on social media about the past week’s demonstrations.

Two of Turkey’s main labor groups, Kesk and Disk, called a strike to support the nationwide protests, which entered a sixth day today. Their members swelled the crowds in Istanbul’s Taksim Square, where the rallies began last week and barricades still block the area to traffic, and Ankara’s Kizilay Square.

Police were largely absent from both squares, though elsewhere in the country they clashed with protesters overnight. Tear gas and water cannons were used in about 10 provinces including the western city of Izmir, where police are under orders to detain 38 people for postings on social media, the state-run Anatolia news agency said today. Of those, 25 were already detained and have been interrogated at the police organized crime unit, it said. There were also clashes in the southeastern provinces of Tunceli and Elazig.

Police said 120 people remain in custody in the cities of Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir and Mersin, according to Anatolia.

The movement spread nationwide after police attacked demonstrators opposing plans to develop an Istanbul park. The protesters called for the resignation of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, citing grievances including alleged police brutality and curbs on alcohol sales.

Erdogan Blamed

An online survey by Istanbul’s Bilgi University, which drew 3,000 responses, found that 92 percent, the largest proportion, said the Islamist-rooted Erdogan’s “authoritarian” attitude was a reason for the protests, with other leading causes including violence by security forces and violations of democratic rights.

Turkey’s benchmark stock index fell 2.3 percent at 3 p.m. local time. The measure plunged 10.5 percent, the most in more than a decade, on June 3 after a weekend of violent clashes, and recouped almost half of that loss yesterday. Benchmark two-year lira bonds also fell today, pushing yields up 22 basis points to 6.25 percent.

Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc sought to defuse the protests yesterday, apologizing to victims of excessive police force and saying the government has learned some lessons. The initial rallies in Istanbul were “rightful and legitimate,” he said. President Abdullah Gul has also said that the message of the protest has been received.

Protester Demands

Arinc met today with a group representing the demands of the Taksim protesters, made up of professional chambers and civil society organizations. The group, labeling itself Taksim Solidarity, called for the park to be preserved, the governors and police chiefs of several cities to be dismissed, and the police banned from using tear gas.

Erdogan, who’s in North Africa on a previously scheduled visit, has taken a tougher line than Gul and Arinc, blaming “extremist” forces and the main opposition party for the protests. He also criticized the role of social media, telling Haberturk TV on June 2 that Twitter was one of society’s biggest problems and accusing people of using it to spread lies during the demonstrations.

Muharrem Ince, a member of parliament for the opposition Republican People’s Party, said by phone early today that raids for posts on Twitter and Facebook are “the height of fascism.”

Erdogan said on June 3 that his party was “barely containing” its supporters from counter-demonstrations. Republican lawmaker Yildiray Sapan warned in parliament today that plans by the premier’s party to welcome him upon his return with a mass rally could further fuel tensions, Anatolia said.

Muhyettin Aksak, a lawmaker from Erdogan’s party, replied: “Why would it cause tensions to welcome the prime minister?”

To contact the reporter on this story: Selcan Hacaoglu in Ankara at shacaoglu@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at barden@bloomberg.net

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