Turkish Protests Planned Using Twitter, Negotiator Says

Anti-government protests in Istanbul were co-ordinated by unknown groups in Europe using social media, Turkey’s European Union negotiator Egemen Bagis said.

The groups set up 20 Twitter accounts in “various European capitals” about six months ago and used them to send messages to Turkish intellectual and cultural figures, Bagis said at a private equity conference in Istanbul today. The speed with which the protests escalated showed that they were planned in advance, he said.

Bagis’s remarks come after the government cracked down on a three-week-long protest movement that ignited on May 31 after police used tear gas and water cannon to disperse protesters occupying an Istanbul park to prevent its redevelopment. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said the protests were exaggerated by the international media and were backed by financial lobbies seeking to undermine Turkey’s economy and raise its interest rates.

The protests turned violent after someone burned down the protesters’ tents in Istanbul’s Gezi Park, Bagis said. Hashtags, used on Twitter to organize postings on a specific subject, were created three days before that occurred while banners with identical messages were printed on short notice, he said.

Logistics tents with “water and lots of beer” were established within hours, Bagis said. He said his experience as a former community organizer told him that creating an event of such a scale on such short notice was “impossible.”

Bagis declined to say who the groups behind the alleged conspiracy were, saying only that they wouldn’t destabilize Turkey’s economy.

Police made mistakes in their initial response to the protests, Bagis said, and “there will be no tolerance for wrongdoing.” About 20 officers have been suspended pending investigations, he said. Further progress is needed to enhance civil rights and strengthen the rule of law, he said.

“Turkey is not perfect,” Bagis said. “But it is better than it used to be.”

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