ISTANBUL – Turkish riot police fired tear gas and water cannons at hundreds of protesters armed with rocks and fireworks today as they tried to regain control of a central Istanbul square at the heart of anti-government demonstrations.
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan struck a defiant note, declaring he would not yield to the protesters, while in a further sign of the effects the 10-day-old crisis has had on markets, the central bank said it would intervene if needed to support the lira.
“They say the prime minister is rough. So what was going to happen? Were we going to kneel down in front of these (people)?” Erdogan said after the action started. “If you call this roughness, I’m sorry, but this Tayyip Erdogan won’t change.”
Riot police backed by armored vehicles moved into Taksim Square, epicentre of more than ten days of protest, soon after dawn. Bulldozers began removing barricades made of paving stones and corrugated iron.
What began as a protest at redevelopment plans for Gezi Park, a leafy corner of the square, has grown into an unprecedented challenge to Erdogan, who has governed for over 10 years. Victor in three consecutive elections, he says the protests are engineered by vandals, terrorist elements and unnamed foreign forces.
“A comprehensive attack against Turkey has been carried out,” Erdogan told parliamentary group meeting of his AK Party.
“The increase in interest rates, the fall in the stock markets, the deterioration in the investment environment, the intimidation of investors – the efforts to distort Turkey’s image have been put in place as a systematic project,” he said.
The unrest has knocked investor confidence in a country long one of the world’s best performing emerging markets, and the lira, already suffering from wider market turmoil, fell to its weakest against its dollar/euro basket since October 2011.
The cost of insuring Turkish debt against default rose to its highest in ten months, although it remained far from crisis levels.
Western allies have expressed concern about the troubles in a key NATO ally bordering Syria, Iraq and Iran. Washington has held up Erdogan’s Turkey as an example of an Islamic democracy that could be emulated elsewhere in the Middle East. (Reuters)