Turkey could be on the verge of a meltdown, what with tens of thousands of protestors from the country’s four biggest cities taking to the streets. What triggered the protests? Plans to construct a shopping center in one of the city’s few remaining green spaces. What started as a peaceful sit-in over plans to demolish trees at Gezi park in central Istanbul quickly escalated to what is referred to as the biggest protest movement against the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan since he came into power over 10 years ago.
Erdogan is blaming “extremist elements” for the riots, more so the main opposition Republican People’s Party(CHP) for playing an active role and working together with the extremists. He also said that intelligence services were investigation foreign links to the anti-government demonstrations that are centered at the square. He made these comments amidst commentator’s expression of surprise at his decision not to cancel his Morocco trip. The trip is for the start of a tour of North Africa. However, the opposition CHP have denied any involvement in the violence.
The sit-in at the square, which is the symbolic heart of the protests, was turned into chaos on Friday night when tear gas from an unknown location at the time was fired at the protestors. A small group of angry residents were holding a sit-in at the square, and the number kept on growing until the riot police moved in with pepper spray and tear gas, the protestors then responded by hurling bottles, setting up barricades and blocking bulldozers. Following what is seen as brute force from the security forces, the demonstrators then stated attacking the police. What started out as protests against the trees that were being torn down under the government’s plans to redevelop the area is now a broad show of defiance against the Islamist-rooted governing party, Justice and Development Party(AKP).
Erdogan in an interview on Turkish television said that everything that is going on was ideological, and that the opposition party is provoking these protests. He added that these protests are aiming to make the AK Party lose votes in the coming elections.
By far, he has remained firm on the plans to remake the square, stating that the protests were not actually related to the development. He called for an end to the riots, stating that if the protestors loved their country, then they would stop with the riots.
Over 1,000 demonstrators were reported as injured since the riots erupted on Friday. Erdogan remains by far the most popular politician in Turkey; however, his approach to leadership doesn’t sit well with all Turks, with some referring to it as authoritarian. Turkey comprises of the secular, liberal Turkish as well as the deep-rooted Islamists. The liberal Turks are complaining that Erdogan’s government is intolerant of criticism and the diversity of lifestyles, citing the recent ban of alcohol consumption. In one of his many appearances on television following the riots, Erdogan’s comeback to the restrictions to alcohol sale and consumption was that he is restricting them for the sake of people’s health.