Turkey Police Escalate Crackdown as Erdogan Rallies Support

Police in Istanbul stepped up their attacks on protesters, detaining hundreds amid some of the worst violence this month, as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told a mass rally a few kilometers away that those behind the unrest will be made to pay.

The clashes spread in all directions out of Taksim Square yesterday, a day after police moved in to clear demonstrators out of Gezi Park where they had been camping out to oppose a development plan. Late yesterday, police were firing tear gas along side streets off the square and nearby districts, beating and arresting protesters. The Istanbul Bar Association said 350 were detained, according to Hurriyet daily. Scattered and bedraggled groups of demonstrators sought to escape or regroup and head back toward Taksim as a thunderstorm lashed the city.

As the violence escalated, Erdogan was addressing hundreds of thousands of supporters on the other side of the city’s historic Golden Horn waterway. He attacked business leaders and foreign media as well as extremist groups for fueling the unrest, warning that there will be legal repercussions for people involved, including teachers who encouraged students to participate. “We will demand a reckoning,” the premier said.

Escalation Risk

The protest movement has broadened from an environmentalist rejection of proposals to build in the park into a wider movement targeting Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted government for what demonstrators say is its increasingly authoritarian approach to dissenting views and different lifestyles. His response, a security crackdown, has drawn condemnation from the U.S. and European Union, and sent Turkish financial markets reeling. Stocks extended losses today on the latest tensions.

Interior Minister Muammer Guler warned that police are ready for further action if labor unions push ahead with strikes or marches today, saying their plan was “illegal.” He also said police are pursuing people who have disseminated false information about the protests on social media, and put the figure for arrests nationwide yesterday at 393.

Five unions representing about 800,000 workers had said they will stage a strike today to protest against the government’s “aggressive” policies.

“The risk of an escalation of the crisis, which could pave the way for more clashes and unrest, is now substantial,” Wolfango Piccoli, an analyst at political-risk assessor Teneo Intelligence in London, said in an e-mailed report. “Despite the government’s heavy-handed approach, there is little prospect of an imminent end to the protests.”

Election Wins

Erdogan has won three elections with a growing share of the vote, reaching 50 percent in 2011. Many protesters say that the prime minister has used his majority to override their concerns. As well as police violence, they cite curbs on alcohol and increased attention to religion at schools.

Erdogan has rejected the charge, saying he governs on behalf of all Turks, and accuses opposition parties of backing the protests because they couldn’t beat him at the ballot box. He has urged supporters to answer the demonstrators by delivering him an election win in local polls due in March.

At his rallies in Istanbul yesterday and Ankara the previous day, he said the huge crowds he drew were a better representation of Turkey than the protesters in Istanbul and other cities.

“We won’t let these people hijack the will of the nation,” Erdogan told supporters in Istanbul, many brought by buses that stretched back kilometers along the Marmara Sea coastline where they parked.

Tourists Cancel

Stocks fell today after rallying last week, when the government had adopted a more compromising tone. Erdogan said on June 14 that the Gezi Park development plan will be put on hold until courts rule on its legality and it is then submitted to a public vote.

The benchmark index fell 0.4 percent at 12:30 p.m., extending its decline this month to 7.3 percent. Yields on two-year lira bonds were unchanged at 6.21 percent. The lira fell 0.4 percent against the dollar.

Cancellations of tourist bookings to Istanbul have reached 50 percent, endangering the government’s target this year of 32 million tourists and $25 billion in revenue, Hurriyet said today citing Timur Bayindir, head of the Turkish Hoteliers Association.

At least four people have been killed during protests. The Turkish Medical Association said more than 11,000 people were exposed to tear gas in the week through June 15.

In Taksim and Gezi Park, hundreds of municipal workers have been cleaning the square, carting off garbage and planting flowers. The square was open again this morning.

Erdogan says he wants to reconstruct an Ottoman-era barracks near Gezi Park. An Istanbul court order on June 1 stopped construction of a sidewalk around the park.

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