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Istanbul Protesters Hear Piano Concert as Calm Returns

Istanbul Protesters Hear Piano Concert as Calm Returns to Taksim
A man plays piano while hundreds of other protesters listen at Taksim Square in Istanbul on June 12, 2013. Photo by Lam Yik Fei/Getty Images

Protesters returned to Istanbul’s Taksim Square in smaller numbers and listened to a piano concert, ending an evening of subdued demonstrations that followed the previous night’s violent clashes.

Several thousand protesters went to Taksim late yesterday, chanting anti-government slogans as groups of police deployed around the square looked on. The previous night, police had used tear gas and water cannons to drive tens of thousands out of the square, the center for two weeks of anti-government demonstrations.

The unrest, which spread nationwide after May 31, has marked one of the biggest challenges to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan since he came to power more than 10 years ago, and has sent Turkish markets plunging. At least four people have died in clashes, and the Turkish Medical Association says more than 4,000 people have been treated at hospitals. The demonstrators say Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted government is increasingly unwilling to countenance dissent.

Erdogan met late yesterday with a group said to represent the demonstrators’ concerns. After several hours of talks, government spokesman Huseyin Celik said that a referendum may be considered over development plans for the square, which sparked the initial protests two weeks ago.

While Turkish law doesn’t provide for local authorities to hold referendums, Interior Minister Muammer Guler said today that voters in Beyoglu, the Istanbul district that includes Taksim, or the whole city may be consulted.

Scrubbing Graffiti

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.

There were clashes in Ankara last night as police used pepper spray and water cannons to disperse a group of protesters, some of them throwing rocks, who were blocking a central street. Several were detained, the official Anatolia news agency reported.

Erdogan has blamed the unrest on financial speculators and extremist groups exploiting initial environmental concerns. Guler said today that more than 600 policemen are among the injured, while about 40 people are still in hospital.

Several hundred protesters remained in Gezi Park, adjoining the square, where plans to cut down trees sparked the initial rallies. Taksim Solidarity, a group which has spoken on behalf of demonstrators there, said it hadn’t been invited to the talks with Erdogan and vowed to remain in the area until development plans are revoked.

Market Recovery

Police fired tear gas and water cannons the previous night as they moved into Taksim to end a week-long occupation. Istanbul Governor Huseyin Avni Mutlu said the intervention was aimed at extremist groups who had joined the protesters.

Turkish stocks extended gains today, with the main index adding 1.1 percent at 11:10 a.m. in Istanbul. Still, it’s down 9.6 percent this month.

Yields on two-year benchmark bonds dropped 12 basis points to 6.68 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 another 0.2 percent to 1.8713 per dollar today.

Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, or AKP, increased its share of the vote in both elections since its initial victory in 2002, as it brought the army under civilian control, presided over a growing economy and started membership talks with the European Union.

His government has acknowledged that police used excessive force in their initial efforts to quell the protests, and promised an investigation, though Erdogan has also praised the police response.

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