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  • Associated Press

    A crowd gathers Sunday in Ankara, Turkey, above, as the coffin of a person killed during recent anti-government protests is carried by supporters.

  • Associated Press

    Police in Istanbul fire a water cannon at protesters who continued to battle authorities in the area of a public park that has become a focus in their fight against the government.

Defiant Turkish leader holds rally

Published: Monday, Jun. 17, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 6A
Last Modified: Tuesday, Jun. 18, 2013 - 10:05 am

ISTANBUL – Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan staged a massive political rally Sunday to demonstrate that his popular strength will prevail in Turkey's political crisis, even as clashes spread to new parts of Istanbul between police firing tear gas and water cannons, and youthful protesters throwing stones and putting up barricades.

The confrontation had begun to recede last week after talks between the government and protesters occupying a small downtown park set for destruction. Erdogan's decision to clear the park by force Saturday evening provoked a new round of more violent protests during the weekend.

Now, the protests seem certain to continue and could widen, depending on how both sides respond.

Turkish labor unions called a one-day strike today that will affect professionals and civil servants to protest the newest round of violence against the protesters.

Erdogan, speaking before hundreds of thousands bused to an Istanbul site by his Justice and Development Party, vigorously defended the decision to clear Istanbul's Taksim Square and Gezi Park as his "duty" and linked the protesters to two terror incidents.

"I said we were at an end, that it was unbearable. Yesterday the operation was carried out and it was cleaned up. It was my duty as prime minister," he said.

Erdogan took two more small steps backward in the crisis, which his own government prompted by ordering the destruction of one of the few patches of green in Istanbul's commercial district to put up a shopping mall.

In what has become an ever-shrinking project, he promised Sunday that 500 of the 600 trees at Gezi park would remain, and that the city would build a cultural center instead of a shopping emporium.

The prime minister also lashed out at Western news organizations for allegedly overstating dimensions of the crisis and at the European Parliament for criticizing the crackdown. Addressing the BBC, CNN and Reuters, he charged: "You have been fabricating lies for days and misrepresenting Turkey."

As for the European Parliament, he said, "We don't recognize you. Who are you to give your judgment on our decision? What did you do in the cases of Greece, England, Germany and France?" – several of which have had violent unrest in the past year.

His ire at the European Parliament carried an undertone of bitterness that almost entirely Muslim Turkey still hasn't been admitted to the European Union.

Violence spread Sunday after the government declared that any protesters who entered Taksim Square, adjacent to the park, would be viewed as "terrorists."

By late Sunday night, some police were labeling anyone with the standard gear for the protests – a plastic hard hat, swim goggles and a surgical mask to protect against flying tear gas canisters – a terrorist.

A McClatchy reporter returning from the rally on foot, due to the closure of public transit, encountered a group of policemen who said his gear marked him as a terrorist.

Throughout Sunday, riot police fired water cannons and tear gas at protesters to prevent them from coming anywhere near Taksim Square, and there were incidents in at least 16 places, according to a McClatchy tally.

Outside the McClatchy office in Istanbul, hundreds of protesters, most likely coming via ferryboat across the Bosporus, were marching noisily toward the Istiklal, the main pedestrian street, which leads to Taksim Square, when a riot-control vehicle appeared at the top of the street and fired round after round of water infused with tear gas.

The protesters fell back, but not for long. They advanced again and police responded with another volley of water and tear gas.

Earlier in the day, protesters marched through the Sisli area near one of Istanbul's biggest shopping centers, calling for Erdogan's resignation, when police appeared and broke up the protest with tear gas.

Even in the working class area of Kasimpasa, where Erdogan grew up, protesters built new barricades, and police responded with tear gas.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Roy Gutman



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