Turkish Leader Defends Police Crackdown on ProtestersSelcan Hacaoglu and Benjamin Harvey
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan brought his supporters onto the streets as he staged rallies in several cities including the capital Ankara, where police moved against protesters in the city center.
Erdogan blamed banks and financial speculators for seeking to profit from the unrest as he spoke to crowds in the cities of Adana and Mersin before a multi-stop speaking tour in Ankara, where he halted his journey from the airport several times late yesterday to address crowds from atop his bus. It was a show of strength by the Islamist-rooted premier, who has been the target of nationwide protests since police cracked down on a rally in an Istanbul park on May 31.
Erdogan said his government would listen to the protesters’ demands, saying he would be ready to meet a chosen representative. He also said that if the demonstrators remain in the streets, “we’ll have to answer them in the language they understand.”
As Erdogan’s bus inched through the capital amid crowds cheering and waving flags, footage on CNN Turk and other channels showed police using tear gas and water cannons to drive demonstrators out of the Kizilay Square district in the city’s center. A few minutes earlier, Erdogan had urged protesters to withdraw. It was a warning for the crowds in Istanbul’s Taksim Square, where police have been absent more than a week and tens of thousands gathered last night for an opposition rally followed by a rock concert.
At least three people, including a policeman, have died in more than a week of clashes between police and protesters who accuse Erdogan of increasingly autocratic behavior after three successive election victories. Turkish police have used tear gas, pepper spray and water cannon to quell the protests, drawing international criticism of their conduct. Erdogan called on his supporters to respond to the protesters at the ballot box. Turkey is due to hold local and presidential votes next year and parliamentary elections in 2015.
He called the demonstrators “terrorists” and “anarchists” and praised officers he called “my police” for their efforts to restore security. Erdogan also lashed out against financial speculators he accused of planning the events because they profit from higher interest rates in Turkey. He asked his followers to deposit their money in state banks, while accusing private banks of opposing him.
“You who started this struggle against us, you’ll pay a heavy price for it,” he said, referring to the private banks and an “interest-rates lobby” he says is trying to undermine and profit from Turkey’s economy. “The interest rates lobby has exploited my people’s sweat for years, and you won’t be able to exploit it any longer.”
European Union High Representative Catherine Ashton said allegations of excessive police force in Turkey should be investigated promptly and those responsible held accountable, according to a statement from her office yesterday.
The protesters in Istanbul have barricaded off Taksim Square and gathered there each day since May 31. Across major cities including Ankara and Istanbul, the sounds of people banging on pots and pans and whistling rings out each night at 9 p.m. in protest against Erdogan’s rule.
Erdogan’s verbal attacks against the finance industry may backfire in markets, according to Tim Ash, chief emerging markets economist at Standard Bank Plc in London.
“They are somehow trying to pin the blame on the protests on markets, and market participants, including foreigners,” Ash said in e-mailed comments yesterday. “The attack on stock market speculation will hardly go down well with foreign portfolio investors who have bought into the Erdogan/AKP story over the past decade, and have been part of its success.”
Erdogan said yesterday that his government would “squeeze the throat” of speculators in the stock market. He also said that there were powers inside and outside Turkey who were unhappy with Turkey’s economic success under his Justice and Development Party or AKP, which won the last election in 2011 with 50 percent of the vote.
Turkey’s stock market declined 1.4 percent at 2:30 p.m. today while the lira fell 1.2 percent to 1.8970 per dollar, heading for its biggest loss on a closing basis in more than a year.
Turkey pays the fourth-highest interest rates on its two-year local currency debt among 21 major emerging markets, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The yield on Turkish benchmark two-year bonds has increased 76 basis points since May 31 to 6.55 percent at the close on June 9, up from a record low of 4.79 percent on May 17. The benchmark stock index fell 8.9 percent last week, the most in almost two years.
As Erdogan rallied his supporters, crowds chanted slogans including “stand tall, this people is with you,” and “let the hands of those who touch the police be broken.” They booed at each mention of the interest rates lobby.
Erdogan accused demonstrators of damaging public property and shops, calling them riffraff and looters and complaining that they uttered obscenities against him.
The government has ruled out early elections to defuse the snowballing protests.
“The prime minister is fueling tensions with his combative style, he must soften his tone,” said Ibrahim Koksel, 47, in Ankara, adding that he had voted for Erdogan’s party. “This is a reflection of unease over what he has done over the past decade.”
Protesters have cited grievances including suppression of the media, legislation passed last month to curb alcohol sales and advertising, an increase in religious lessons at schools, and development plans in Taksim’s Gezi Park and other areas that they say will destroy green spaces.
More than 4,000 people have been treated at hospitals for injuries sustained since the clashes began, the Turkish Medical Association said yesterday.