Turkish Police Retakes Square Amid Clashes

Turkish protesters urged people to return to Taksim Square this evening, after they were driven out by police last night.

The Taksim Solidarity group, which says it represents protesters, called in an e-mailed statement for people to return to the square from 7 p.m. It reiterated demands including the preservation of the park, the dismissal of governors and police chiefs in cities where demonstrators have been attacked, and the release of those detained during the rallies.

The square was largely calm today, as municipal workers swept up piles of litter and started scrubbing off anti-government slogans sprayed on walls. Hundreds of protesters remained in adjacent Gezi Park, where police didn’t intervene, taking shelter under plastic sheets from the rain, or resting after last night’s violence in tents and camping chairs. Demonstrators gathered in the park two weeks ago to oppose a redevelopment plan.

The protests, which spread nationwide after May 31, are the biggest in more than 10 years under Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and 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.

Urged to Leave

Istanbul Governor Huseyin Avni Mutlu said police will continue their battle against the “marginal groups” that attacked them, without targeting the peaceful protesters in Gezi Park. Still, he has urged people there to leave for their own safety, and warned that the clashes may resume. Erdogan predicted today that the protests will be over within 24 hours.

“Ok, he came to power with the most votes, but that doesn’t make him an emperor,” said Sinem Ayata, a recent graduate drinking tea with friends under a makeshift shelter in Gezi Park early today. “The government won’t fall, and they’ll probably cut down the trees anyway. But we’re here to oppose this style of ‘I’m doing it, and that’s that’.”

Erdogan, who has blamed the unrest on financial speculators and extremist groups who are exploiting initial environmental concerns, was due to meet representatives of the protesters today, according to the official Anatolia News Agency. Taksim Solidarity said it hadn’t been invited, and that no such meeting would help as long as police are using violence.

Police fired tear gas and water cannons last night as protesters hurled rocks and fireworks at them, in some of the worst clashes since the demonstrations began. Thick clouds of gas drove most protesters out of Taksim, forcing them into back alleys where many doubled over, coughing and retching.

Markets Recover

Stocks pared losses today, with the main index adding 2.3 percent at the close in Istanbul. Still, it’s down 11 percent this month, the third-worst performer among the world’s benchmarks after Greece and Egypt, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Yields on two-year benchmark bonds dropped 2 basis points to 6.8 percent, retreating from a seven-month high. The lira extended gains after the central bank tightened liquidity yesterday to shield the currency, adding 0.8 percent to 1.875 per dollar.

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party, said the demands of youth protesters had “found a response in the people, and become legitimate.” Kilicdaroglu, who spoke after an emergency party meeting early today, said political parties should defuse the tension and avoid holding large rallies. Erdogan’s party has announced plans for rallies in Istanbul and Ankara next weekend.

Leaders’ Meeting

The opposition leader also urged President Abdullah Gul to convene a meeting of party leaders to discuss the crisis. Gul said today he didn’t think that would ease tensions, and that he is instead talking individually with party leaders.

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.

The U.S. expressed concern about the violence and called on the Turkish government to uphold “fundamental freedoms” of expression and assembly. “We are concerned by any attempts to punish individuals for exercising their right to free speech, as well as attempts by any party to provoke violence,” Caitlin Hayden, the spokeswomen for President Barack Obama’s National Security Council, said in a statement.

‘Wrong Signal’

Germany’s Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said the government’s reaction to the protests “sent the wrong signal,” and urged Erdogan to “de-escalate.”

The government has acknowledged that police used excessive force, and promised an investigation, though Erdogan has also praised the police response.

Police have brought in construction machines and bulldozers to remove barricades erected by protesters. They included the burned-out shells of several municipal buses, as well as a jumble of park benches, garbage cans, twisted metal and bricks that had been blocking roads reaching to the square.

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