Erdogan Calls Protests Conspiracy, Vows to Strengthen Police

Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused the main opposition party of inciting weeks of protests and vowed to strengthen police in “every way” to fight a “conspiracy” by traitors and foreign agitators.

Earlier today, Turkish police raided homes in Istanbul and Ankara, rounding up 85 people suspected of violence against police, Interior Minister Muammer Guler said. Overnight, they fired tear gas and water cannons to disperse hundreds of protesters in Ankara. The European Union has denounced the use of force by police, and today, members of the European Parliament canceled a planned visit.

In a speech to parliament, Erdogan alleged, without saying where he got the figure, that 76 percent of the protesters who occupied Istanbul’s Gezi Park had voted for the secular Republican People’s Party. He accused its leader, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, of acting like a “militant of a terrorist organization” and said other opposition lawmakers disseminated “lies on Twitter” to incite masses.

“From now on, police will not turn a blind eye to any illegal activity,” said Erdogan, who has promised to probe the use of excessive force by police against protesters. “We will further strengthen our police in every way, so it can intervene in these kind of incidents more forcefully.” He did not elaborate.

Conduct Assailed

The biggest street demonstrations against the decade-old Erdogan government erupted May 31 in frustration over what protesters say is his increasingly authoritarian conduct and attempts to impose Islamic ways on the country. At least four people have died in clashes between demonstrators and police, and thousands have been injured.

“The time has come for Turkey to get rid of the dictator,” opposition leader Kilicdaroglu retorted to Erdogan in parliament today.

Financial markets have been reeling, with stocks and bonds extending losses today. The benchmark equity index dropped 0.6 percent at 3:40 p.m. in Istanbul, taking its decline this month to 8.7 percent. Yields on two-year lira debt rose 40 basis points to 6.64 percent.

Last weekend, police drove protesters from Gezi Park and nearby Taksim Square, the center of the unrest, arresting hundreds. A single man stood for hours in Taksim until early today, triggering a silent protests by dozens of people as word of his vigil spread on social media.

Banned Groups

Most of the suspects detained in today’s round-up were linked to banned left-wing groups, state-run TRT television said. Targets included a newspaper and news agency linked to a Marxist group, TRT said.

Erdogan said his government foiled a conspiracy that was well planned by “traitors” backed by “circles abroad,” including international media and a group he calls the “interest rate lobby.” Ministers have said a group of international banks and individuals is stoking the unrest to keep Turkey’s interest rates high and benefit on speculative trading.

“Turkey has emerged stronger from a test of democracy,” he said, inviting supporters to rallies in central Turkey this week, following similar rallies in Istanbul and Ankara over the weekend.

Criticism Rebuffed

Erdogan has rebuffed EU criticism of the Turkish police crackdown. The friction led the European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee to cancel a planned trip to Turkey.

“In the face of the declarations made by representatives of the government of Turkey, the committee has decided to postpone its visit. I regret this,” Elmar Brok, chairman of the foreign affairs committee, said in a statement today.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters yesterday in Washington that the U.S. believes most Turks at the demonstrations were “peacefully protesting, expressing their rights to freedom of speech.”

She cited concerns about “reports of activity including police brutality,” and also said the U.S. is “very troubled by any pressure being placed on journalists or media organizations.”

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