Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed to crack down on any anti-government protests as the conviction of hundreds in a coup plot fueled tensions.
Protests over government plans to redevelop an Istanbul park engulfed Turkey’s major cities for most of June amid resentment over what critics say is Erdogan’s increasing authoritarianism. Asked today if his government expects protests to flare again after summer holidays, he replied, “Opting for such a way would create problems for our country.”
“This country will respond in whatever way necessary with the full power of its security forces,” Erdogan told reporters in Istanbul after prayers marking Eid al-Fitr, the holiday celebrating the end of the Ramadan fast month. “It is very clear that none of these have anything to do with the search for freedom,” he said, referring to protests.
Erdogan’s intolerance for dissent also filtered through in his attack on opposition leaders who questioned the legitimacy of a Turkish court’s conviction this week of hundreds of defendants in a plot to overthrow his government.
He accused main opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu, head of the Republican People’s Party, of violating Turkey’s constitution by questioning the legality of the Aug. 5 convictions.
“His comments amount to a crime,” said Erdogan, citing an article of the constitution that bars interfering with the judiciary’s independence. The prime minister also attacked Devlet Bahceli, head of the opposition Nationalist Action party, for his criticism of the trial.
The court sentenced ex-army chief Ilker Basbug to life in prison, along with journalists, academics and lawyers at the end of a six-year probe. Critics says the defendants did not enjoy a presumption of innocence and were convicted on forged evidence. The government denied the case was politically tainted and defended it as a means to curb the power of a military that has ousted four governments since 1960.
In another sign authorities were clamping down on critics, three teenagers were detained in the southern city of Adana and questioned by prosecutors for allegedly defacing a billboard showing a smiling Erdogan calling for unity, Radikal newspaper reported today, without saying if they were charged.
Foreign investors have reduced their exposure to Turkey since the June protests, a problem for its current account because Turkey relies on capital flows from abroad to finance growth. The flight has amplified the impact of an emerging markets sell-off trigged by Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke when he said in May he might scale back bond-buying stimulus.
In his remarks to reporters, Erdogan also said parliament may cut short its summer recess to work on proposals for “democratic reforms.” He did not elaborate. Parliament is scheduled to reconvene Oct. 1.
Erdogan’s government has said it is working to address demands for greater religious tolerance in the predominantly Sunni Muslim country. The government refuses to recognize the houses of worship of the largest religious minority, the Alevis, and it is unclear how far the proposed reforms will go.
The smaller Greek Orthodox community seeks to reopen a seminary Turkey shut down in 1971.