Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan returned to Turkey early today with a message of defiance for demonstrators gathered in the country’s two biggest cities, saying the government won’t turn a blind eye to “vandalism and illegality.”
Thousands of supporters welcomed Erdogan at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport after 2 a.m. as he returned from a four-day trip to North Africa, the first time government supporters have taken to the streets in large numbers since the protests began a week ago. Tens of thousands more demonstrated against him in the capital Ankara and in Istanbul, where protesters have barricaded off central Taksim Square after police withdrew from the area.
Addressing the crowd from atop a bus outside the airport, Erdogan accused speculators of encouraging the protests, saying that an “interest-rates lobby” is “threatening Turkey with speculation in the markets.” He said that “no power can stop Turkey’s rise except God,” while supporters chanted: “Open the way and we’ll crush Taksim.”
The country’s stocks and bonds have slumped this week as demonstrations spread nationwide after police used tear gas and water cannons on May 31 against demonstrators who had gathered in Gezi Park near Taksim to oppose plans to develop it. Erdogan has accused “extremist” groups, including terrorist from far-left organizations, and unidentified foreign provocateurs of having a role in the fiercest anti-government protests in years.
Many demonstrators have called for the resignation of the Islamist-rooted Erdogan, saying he’s become too autocratic, and cite grievances including police violence, increased religious lessons at schools, and curbs on alcohol sales.
Turkish financial markets were steadier today. The benchmark index fell 0.6 percent at 11:20 a.m. in Istanbul, extending its slide this week to 12 percent. Yields on two-year lira debt rose 3 basis points to 6.81 percent, and are up 74 basis points in the week.
Osman Can, a member of the governing Justice & Development Party’s executive committee, said in a phone interview today that officials from the party and the Istanbul municipality are in “rational negotiations” with a group representing the protesters.
He said protests show the need for consensus on a new constitution. Erdogan’s party has been pushing for a charter that would create a more powerful presidency, a plan resisted by the main opposition parties. Can said the Justice party’s executive board will meet in Istanbul tomorrow.
Erdogan has won three successive elections with a growing share of the vote, reaching 50 percent in 2011. He has dismissed the protests as the work of people unable to defeat him at the ballot box, and said on June 3 that his party was “barely containing” its supporters from holding counter-demonstrations.
“We are against the dominance of the majority over a minority, and we would not accept the dominance of a minority over the majority either,” Erdogan said in Tunis. He also defended the Taksim Square plans, saying they’ll include a “magnificent” reconstruction of an Ottoman barracks, as well as a new opera house and theater.
Erdogan’s deputy, Bulent Arinc, and President Abdullah Gul have made more conciliatory comments in recent days.
Whether Erdogan is ready to engage with the demands of the protesters will determine how quickly the crisis subsides, said Wolfango Piccoli at London-based political risk analyst Teneo Intelligence.
“The deep-rooted differences between a section of the public and Erdogan, his party and his conservative constituency are now out in the open and could trigger a new wave of unrest in the future,” Piccoli said in an e-mailed report. “If poorly managed, these differences and challenges could affect the country’s economic and political stability.”
Interior Minister Muammer Guler told a televised press conference in Ankara yesterday that security forces won’t intervene against the protests “so long as they remain within the laws.” He said 516 police are among those injured.
The Turkish Medical Association said in an e-mail today that 4,785 have been hurt including 48 with serious injuries and three who are still in a critical condition. It said 10 people lost eyes and 18 suffered head traumas.