WASHINGTON, June 11, 2013 — Following warnings from Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan that his patience with protestors was wearing thin, police launched an assault today to retake landmark Taksim Square from control of protestors.
Two weeks after the start of nationwide demonstrations, security forces entered Taksim Square using tear gas and water cannons to dislodge protestors.
Masked demonstrators responded by throwing rocks, bottles and Molotov cocktails, resulting in all-day clashes between protestors and police. Police who secured the perimeter failed to calm the situation or end the violence.
After work hours, thousands more Turks poured into the square to bolster protestors and to demonstrate dissatisfaction with police brutality.
Police returned to the square with new supplies of tear gas and water cannons in an effort to oust the demonstrators.
The decision to use force against the protestors came hours after Erdogan agreed to meet with some of the leaders of the Gezi Park Platform on Wednesday. The initial protest started after police brutally suppressed protestors opposing a government decision to close Gezi Park.
Today, Erdogan reiterated statements that the protestors represented only a fringe of society and that they were illegal. He also repeated earlier statements that “foreign elements” were stoking the protests.
Erdogan previously warned protestors to stay out of Taksim Square and differentiated between the peaceful demonstrators in Gezi and the “riff-raff” in Taksim.
Although demonstrations in Gezi Park sparked the initial disturbances, they have spread to include general dissatisfaction with Erdogan. The protests are the largest challenge to Erdogan in his ten-year rule and demonstrate increasing dissatisfaction by secularists and the middle class against what they see as Erdogan’s increasing authoritarian rule and attempts to move the secular country toward Islamic law.
Despite the surprising violence, Erdogan remains the most popular politician in Turkey and is in iron-clad control of his party. Although demonstrators say the protests are the beginning of the end for Erdogan, it is highly unlikely they will prompt his removal.
In stark contrast to the demonstrations in Taksim, Erdogan held three rallies over the weekend, where tens of thousands of supporters rallied to cheer his leadership.
While Erdogan will almost certainly remain in power after the protests die down, the demonstrations may have lifted the window dressing on Erdogan and raised questions about his masqarade as a reformer. Instead of blindly accepting his statements, international leaders may now question some of his policies, such as removing women from positions in government, restricting the sale of alcohol, and “reeducating” Alevi Muslims to the Sunni branch of the religion.
The Turkish Spring may, at a minimum, curb Erdogan’s more authoritarian tendencies and make him accountable both to international observers and the Turkish people.
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