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Trouble in Turkey 2 juin 2013

Posted by Acturca in Istanbul, Turkey / Turquie.
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The Peninsula (Qatar) Sunday, June 2, 2013, p. 8


It will be hyperbole to call it Turkish Spring, as some sections of the Western media have done, but there is no doubt that the current wave of protests in Istanbul poses a serious challenge to the credibility and popularity of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. What began as an outcry against a local development project has snowballed into widespread anger against what some say is the government’s increasingly conservative and authoritarian agenda. The unrest was triggered by government plans for Ottoman-era barracks housing shops or apartments in Istanbul’s Taksim Square, for long a venue for political protest. The protests have since widened into a broader show of defiance against Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP). It also spread to other cities across the country, with police yesterday blocking a group of demonstrators from marching to parliament and the prime minister’s office in Ankara. The protests are said to be the most serious the government has faced in years.

The show of force by protesters can be interpreted variously. The government has claimed it’s the work of extremists and the opposition, while the protesters and opposition say it’s a natural outpouring of anger against the repressive policies of Erdogan. The prime minister has been facing criticism for measures which have been seen as curbing freedom in the country, such as jailing of some journalists and a lack of dialogue with the public and the opposition on key issues and policy decisions. A long stint in power has made Erdogan too powerful and also insensitive to criticism. With the military silenced and the media losing some of its freedom, there is a feeling that the president is venturing outside the democratic territory.

Even if the president denies all of the accusations against him, he has a duty to dispel public fears about his policies and actions. The current protests cannot be ignored. Any attempt to use disproportionate force will have disastrous consequences as was seen in the many hours since the start of the protests. The initial police reaction was high-handed and several people were injured. But the government soon woke up to the seriousness of the situation and the police retreated from the Taksim Square yesterday, which protesters called a victory. The government will have to tread very cautiously in the coming days. With the protests attracting international attention, the moves of both the government and the protesters will be watched closely. The prime minister has said his government would go ahead with plans to redevelop the iconic Taksim Square. Instead of using force and going ahead with the project, the prime minister must adopt the path of dialogue. The government has more to lose in the current standoff and therefore must extend its hand for peace.


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