Turkish PM again dismisses protests
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has again dismissed street protests against his rule as organised by extremists, described them as a temporary blip and angrily rejected comparisons with the Arab Spring uprisings.
Appearing defensive on the fourth day of disturbances, he lashed out at reporters who asked whether the government had understood "the message" from protesters airing grievances and whether he would soften his tone. "What is the message? I want to hear it from you," Erdogan retorted. "What can a softened tone be like? Can you tell me?"
Turkey has been hit by demonstrations since Friday that grew out of anger over excessive police force against protesters holding a sit-in to prevent the uprooting of trees at Istanbul's main Taksim Square. The demonstrations have since spiralled into Turkey's biggest anti-government disturbances in years, challenging Erdogan's power.
The demonstrators, mostly secular-minded Turks, took to the streets airing frustrations at Erdogan's abrasive and non-compromising style as well as the heavy-handed police response to protests. Some of the protesters clashed with police, but most demonstrated peacefully. Erdogan has called the protesters "a bunch of looters".
Violence flared in Istanbul early on Monday between a group of demonstrators and police. The Dogan news agency said as many as 500 people were detained overnight after police broke up protests by several thousand people in the capital Ankara. Turkey's Fox television reported 300 others detained in a similar crackdown in Izmir, Turkey's third-largest city.
Erdogan blamed the protest on "internal and external" groups bent on harming Turkey, said the country's intelligence service was working on identifying them and threatened to hit back at them. "We shall be discussing these with them and will be following up, in fact we will also settle accounts with them," he said.
He rejected any comparison to the Arab Spring uprisings. He said citizens "already have a spring in Turkey", alluding to the nation's free elections. "But there are those who want to turn this spring into winter. Be calm, these will all pass," he added.
Turkey's president later defended the right of citizens to protest, in strong contrast to the dismissive stance of the prime minister. Abdullah Gul said: "When we speak of democracy, of course the will of the people is above all... but democracy does not mean elections alone."
"There can be nothing more natural for the expression of various views, various situations and objections through a variety of ways, besides elections," he said. He added: "The views that are well intentioned have been read, seen and noted and the messages have been received."
US Secretary of State John Kerry said the administration is very concerned about a crackdown on protesters and is urging authorities to exercise restraint and all sides to refrain from violence. He said the US was following the situation closely, was troubled by reports of excessive force by the police and "deeply concerned" by the number of people injured.