Huseyin Celik, deputy chairman of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development party, denied opposition demands for early elections and said the country won’t bow to financial speculators seeking to profit from the unrest.
Celik, speaking after a more than four-hour meeting of the party’s executive committee in Istanbul today, said that while the government would listen to “legitimate demands” from the people, elections would only take place as planned in 2015.
“There is absolutely no reason that would require early elections,” Celik said, rebuffing earlier comments from opposition leader Devlet Bahceli. The government won’t “bow to demands from government opponents or the interest rate lobby.”
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who returned yesterday from North Africa amid protesters’ calls for his resignation, led the party meeting. The event was brought forward from June 19 after rallies against plans to build on parkland in central Istanbul turned into anti-government demonstrations.
After several speeches condemning protesters, Erdogan yesterday spent time defending his government’s democratic credentials and environmental record. He condemned the protesters’ methods, saying they were violent, while expressing readiness to listen to demands voiced democratically.
Thousands of protesters held peaceful vigils against the government in Ankara and Istanbul yesterday, while police fired tear-gas canisters to disperse a group of demonstrators who had set roadblocks on fire in the low-income Gazi neighborhood of Istanbul, according to a report in Zaman newspaper today.
Protesters have said Erdogan has become too autocratic, citing police violence, increased religious lessons at schools and curbs on alcohol sales.
“We’re opposed to violence, terror, vandalism,” Erdogan said at a conference on Turkey’s European Union membership bid yesterday. “For those who come to me with democratic demands, I’ll sacrifice my life.”
The conference took place at a central Istanbul hotel, guarded by a police cordon, and within walking distance of Taksim Square. The rallies spread nationwide after police used tear gas and water cannons on May 31 against demonstrators who had gathered in Gezi Park near Taksim.
“The Prime minister’s time is up,” Bahceli said as he called for early elections today. “There is need for renewal of the nation’s will. We are leaving the decision on timing of the ballot box to the prime minister.”
Erdogan said yesterday that proposals for Taksim Square will enhance it, and were publicly available at the time of the last election in 2011, which he won with about 50 percent of the vote. Referring to that result, he said his party seeks to govern for all 76 million Turks.
Yalcin Akdogan, Erdogan’s chief adviser, told Haberturk television yesterday that the government was “not turning a deaf ear to demands of people with common sense.”
Akdogan reiterated that the prime minister has dropped plans to build a shopping mall as part of the proposed development and instead proposed the construction of a city museum along with plans to rebuild the replica of an Ottoman barracks at the Gezi Park site. He said there was need for consensus and to avoid further tension.
Turkish financial markets rallied on the prime minister’s more conciliatory tone, paring a slump driven by the protests. The benchmark stock index added 3.2 percent yesterday, though it still dropped 8.9 percent in the week. Yields on two-year lira bonds fell 23 basis points to 6.55 percent, compared with 6.07 percent a week earlier.
“Turkey has a lot to lose if prolonged tensions threaten political and economic stability,” said Gokhan Bacik, a political scientist at Zirve University in the southern Turkish city of Gaziantep. “Businessmen are worried.”
Erdogan returned to Turkey in the early morning of June 7 after a four-day trip to North Africa, and was greeted at the airport by thousands of supporters, the first time that pro-government crowds have taken to the streets since the protests.
Stefan Fule, the EU’s commissioner for enlargement, said at the Istanbul conference yesterday that Turkey needs a swift and transparent investigation into excessive use of force by police during the protests. Erdogan has said a probe is under way.