Turkish Unions March to Protest Police Crackdown in Istanbul

Thousands of Turkish workers went on strike and marched in Istanbul and Ankara in support of protesters, as political turmoil in Turkey entered its third week after a police crackdown.

Union members gathered in Kizilay Square in the capital today after Interior Minister Muammer Guler said no “illegal” demonstration would be allowed. The marchers were blocked by armored police vehicles with water cannons, though there was no immediate confrontation and the rally broke up peacefully according to the official Anatolia news agency. In Istanbul, the strikers gathered near Taksim Square and their route there was cordoned off by police, also without any initial clashes.

Istanbul, Turkey’s biggest city and commercial capital, saw some of the worst violence yesterday since the protests began on May 31, as police clashed with demonstrators in several districts after driving them out of Taksim the previous day. Guler said 393 people were detained yesterday. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan rallied his own supporters in an Istanbul suburb and told a crowd of hundreds of thousands that those behind the unrest will be made to pay.

‘Democratic Reaction’

The protest movement has broadened from an environmentalist rejection of proposals to build in Istanbul’s Gezi 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 and bonds extended losses today.

Labor groups representing about 800,000 workers called today’s action to protest the government’s “aggressive” policies.

Kani Beko, head of the Disk trade union confederation, said in Istanbul today that workers gathered to call for an end to “oppression and persecution.” He said if the government “doesn’t stop its war against the people, we will continue to take our democratic reaction to the squares.”

Guler warned that civil servants and workers taking part in illegal demonstrations “will have to accept legal consequences” for their actions. The Istanbul governor’s office said calls for a rally in Taksim are illegal and “won’t be tolerated.”

‘Substantial’ Risk

“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.”

Guler said police are also pursuing people who have disseminated false information about the protests on social media, and the government may introduce legal restrictions on such Internet activity.

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.

‘Will of Nation’

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.

The benchmark stock index fell 1.4 percent at the close in Istanbul, taking its loss this month to 8.3 percent. Yields on two-year lira bonds rose 3 basis points to 6.24 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. In a survey of chief executives by Ekonomist magazine, almost 60 percent said business had suffered.

Merkel Criticism

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.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, asked in an interview with RTL television today about the violence in the context of Turkey’s EU membership bid, said that “what’s happening in Turkey at the moment doesn’t conform to our understanding of freedom to gather and free speech.”

Erdogan says he wants to reconstruct Ottoman-era barracks near Gezi Park. An Istanbul court order on June 1 stopped construction of a sidewalk around the park. Erdogan said on June 14 that the plan will be put on hold until courts rule, and will then be submitted to a public vote.

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