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As Turkey clamps down, Europe recoils 13 juin 2013

Posted by Acturca in France, Turkey / Turquie, Turkey-EU / Turquie-UE.
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The International Herald Tribune (USA) Thursday, June 13, 2013, p. 4

Dan Bilefsky, Paris

New membership talks take a step backward even before they start.

German and French officials are warning that the events in Taksim Square threaten to worsen frayed relations and reinforce doubts that Turkey is ready to join the club.

After three years of stalled talks on Turkey’s bid to join the European Union, the planned relaunching of negotiations at the end of June was meant to herald a new beginning in their often fraught relationship.

Now, influential ministers from Germany and France and European analysts are warning that the bloody crackdown in Taksim Square threatens to undermine frayed relations while reinforcing doubts that Turkey has the democratic credentials to join the club.

The violent mayhem Tuesday night as rioters clashed with the police in Taksim Square marked an apex in the worst crisis to buffet Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey since he came to power 10 years ago. The clampdown on the protesters has undermined Turkish attempts to cultivate an international image as a predominantly Muslim country that cleaves to secular European ideals and can serve as a model for the region.

The German foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, called the images from the square disturbing on Wednesday and said the Turkish government’s reaction to the crisis was sending the wrong signal at home and abroad.

 »We expect Prime Minister Erdogan to de-escalate the situation, in the spirit of European values, and to seek a constructive exchange and peaceful dialogue, » he said in a statement.

The French E.U. affairs minister, Thierry Repentin, has been even more emphatic. He told the French Senate last Thursday that police repression in Turkey had gone too far and warned that the country’s behavior threatened to jeopardize plans to restart the accession talks, which both France and Germany – long skeptics about Turkey’s admission to the Union – have lately been supporting.

 »No democracy can be built on the repression of people who try to express themselves in the street, » Mr. Repentin said.  »The right to protest, to oppose the government, must be respected. »

In Paris on Wednesday, Turkey’s chief E.U. negotiator, Egemen Bagis, said there were  »sincere » protesters in Taksim Square who had a democratic right to protest. But he insisted that terrorists and unspecified foreign forces were the real impetus behind the anti-government actions and that Turkey had a right to defend itself from violence and provocation.

 »Those who resort to violence will be dealt with like they are in all democratic societies, » he said, arguing that allowing the situation in Taksim Square to persist would be analogous to allowing Al Qaeda to post banners or posters on the Statue of Liberty or in Times Square in New York.

The demonstrations began over a plan to replace the last green space in the center of the city, Gezi Park in Taksim Square, with a mall designed like an Ottoman-era barracks. But when the police intervened to clear the park, the move emboldened protesters to air more general grievances against what they see as Mr. Erdogan’s authoritarianism.

Mr. Bagis said police behavior in dealing with the protesters was being investigated. He also stressed that the events in Taksim Square served as a reminder to Europe that opening its arms to Turkey – rather than blocking it – would help the country to ensure that E.U. norms, including individual human rights, were respected.  »I think this should be seen as an opportunity, » he said.

Asked to explain why Mr. Erdogan has been an ardent supporter of democracy movements in Egypt, Tunisia and Syria, yet resorted to a tough stance with at least rhetorical echoes of dictators like the Syrian leader, Bashar al-Assad, Mr. Bagis said that such analogies were baseless and any attempt to label Mr. Erdogan authoritarian was  »slander. »

The protests, he stressed, were not a Turkish Spring, and Mr. Erdogan, unlike Mr. Assad, is a popular leader who had been democratically elected three times. If elections were held today, he added, the prime minister would easily win 60 percent of the vote.

 »After the first night of demonstrations, people in the Western media said the Turkish Spring had started, » he said.  »I highly condemn that approach. Comparing what is happening in Turkey to the Arab Spring is out of sight, out of logic. Turkey is a democracy. There is a campaign to tarnish a democratically elected government. »

Analysts noted that a growing rift between Turkey and Europe would only accelerate a shift by Ankara toward the Middle East that gained force as the euro crisis made the European Union increasingly unattractive to many Turks and as the leadership sought new regional clout in the wake of the Arab Spring.

Sinan Ulgen, a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe in Brussels, said the protests in Istanbul had laid bare the extent to which a distracted European Union had lost leverage to influence Mr. Erdogan’s behavior.  »The E.U. has lost so much leverage in Turkey, » he said.  »The only way forward is to use carrots – not sticks.

 »If the E.U. had been a more visible and engaged player, the Erdogan government’s actions would have been different. »

Mr. Bagis, for his part, warned that those who sought to destabilize Turkey and undermine its economic progress would be disappointed. In due course, he said, Mr. Erdogan would expose those who had been plotting against Turkey.  »I have bad news for them, » Mr. Bagis said.  »They will not be able to stop us. »


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