ISTANBUL — Turkish trade unionists banging drums and trailing banners marched into an Istanbul square today, joining unprecedented protests against Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan over what they see as his authoritarian rule.
Members of more than a dozen unions chanting “Tayyip resign” marched down a major avenue towards Taksim Square. There were similar protests against Erdogan, prime minister for over 10 years and winner of three elections, in Kizilay Park in the capital Ankara.
Youths skirmished with police in cities across the country in a fifth night of troubles.
Critics accuse Erdogan of inflaming the situation over the weekend by describing protesters in blanket terms as looters, and later associating them with terrorism. Since Erdogan left the country on a visit to north Africa, deputy prime minister Bulent Arinc has struck a more conciliatory tone.
Arinc, formally in charge of government in Erdogan’s absence, met a delegation of architects involved in demonstrations last week against plans to build a replica Ottoman-era barracks on Gezi Park in Taksim.
Police use of tear gas and water cannon to disperse that demonstration triggered Turkey’s most violent riots in decades and drew other groups, from professionals to students, into a broadening protest against Erdogan. Two people have been killed and more than 3,000 injured in the six days of protests, dealing a blow to the prime minister’s image at home and abroad.
Arinc apologised yesterday for “excessive violence” by police against the initial Taksim demonstration, comments which contrasted sharply with Erdogan’s defiance.
Pro-government newspapers signalled a softening of Ankara’s stance in the absence of Erdogan: Olive Branch, declared Sabah newspaper in a banner front-page headline. Softer Line, said Milliyet, in reference to the apology and today’s meeting.
But Arinc refuses to talk to unnamed groups he accuses of exploiting anger over the police action against the original protest to foment violence. Youths, some affiliated to radical left wing groups, have pulled up paving stones and smashed windows in successive nights.
The change in tone from the AK Party government appeared too little and too late to halt the protests.
“We will show that we will not surrender to AKP fascism with our peaceful democratic reaction in city squares,” said a joint statement from two union confederations. “The AKP is trying to cow a significant portion of society to realize its own dreams of power, restricting rights and freedoms.” (Reuters)