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Turkish activists protest police tactics, govt rhetoric

The recent wave of anti-government protests has mainly involved young, middle class and well-educated activists

AFP , Sunday 30 Jun 2013
Turkey
A man flies a kite on a roof at Taksim Square in Istanbul, Turkey, as thousands of protesters gather on the Square on Saturday, June 29, 2013 (Photo: AP)
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Thousands protested in Istanbul's Taksim Square Saturday at what they say is harsh police treatment of anti-government demonstrators, as activists placed press adverts calling on the regime to tone down its rhetoric.

Riot police blocked off the centre of the square, the symbolic heart of the nationwide protest movement, for some two hours as the demonstrators chanted "Government, resign!"

The crowd also denounced the death of a demonstrator in the country's Kurdish-dominated southeast on Friday after soldiers opened fire to disperse villagers protesting against the expansion of an army outpost.

Saturday's Istanbul demonstration passed off peacefully.

Earlier Saturday, several Turkish papers ran a full-page advert placed by artists, journalists and authors, calling on the government to stop using inflammatory language.

"We are concerned," the advert said. "The 'you vs us' rhetoric is sharpening the polarisation of society.

"There is an air of frustration and hatred around," it said, implicitly pointing the finger of blame at Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Islamic-rooted government.

The ad was signed by more than 80 people including Nobel literature laureate Orhan Pamuk.

Erdogan's critics accuse him becoming increasingly authoritarian after a decade in office.

The recent wave of anti-government protests has mainly involved young, middle class and well-educated activists. Erdogan has dismissed the demonstrators as "looters" or naive youngsters being manipulated by "terrorists".

But the protests constitute the most serious challenge to his rule since his Justice and Development Party (AKP) took office in 2002.

The authorities have targeted journalists and members of the artistic community over the demonstrations.

Erdogan denounced prominent Turkish actor Mehmet Ali Alabora after he posted a tweet supporting the protest movement, accusing him of stirring up unrest and threatening to press charges against him.

Pro-government daily Yeni Safak branded Alabora a leading figure in a "plot aimed at toppling the government", since when the actor says he has received threats.

Erdogan has also said the unrest was a plot "hatched by traitors and their foreign accomplices". He has repeatedly accused foreign media of wrongly portraying the mass protests, singling out CNN and the BBC.

On Saturday, pro-government newspaper Takvim said it had lodged a complaint with Istanbul prosecutors against CNN International and its veteran anchor Christiane Amanpour.

The complaint accused them of "inciting the public to hatred and enmity by making false news", said Takvim daily news director Mevlut Yuksel.

Ankara mayor Melih Gokcek has launched a Twitter campaign against BBC Turkish correspondent Selin Girit, accusing her of treason and spying for Britain.

The BBC on Monday expressed concern about what it said were attempts to "intimidate its journalists".

A number of international rights groups have denounced Turkey for its crackdown on journalists.

Another signatory of the full-page advert was world-renowned classical pianist Fazil Say, who is facing a retrial after a conviction for blasphemy over his Twitter posts was cancelled in April.

Secular Turks worried about what they see as creeping Islamic conservatism in the predominantly Muslim country have pointed to this high-profile case to support their argument.

Erdogan has won three successive elections, gaining in popularity each time.

An opinion poll earlier this month found that the AKP would still come first if elections were held today, but only with 35.3 percent of the vote, compared with nearly half at the last ballot in 2011.

Turkey's recent turmoil was sparked by a police crackdown on a small protest to save Istanbul's Gezi Park, next to Taksim Square, on May 31.

The violence spiralled into nationwide outpourings of anger against Erdogan and his party.

Some 2.5 million people have taken to the streets in dozens of cities across the country since then, according to the most recent police estimates.

The demonstrations left four people dead and nearly 8,000 injured, according to the Turkish Medical Association. The violence has eased since police evicted protesters from Gezi Park two weeks ago.

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