Füle to meet Erdo?an as political discontent continues

Stefan Fuele at Gezi park.jpg

EU Enlargement Commissioner Štefan Füle was preparing on Friday (7 June) to meet Turkey’s embattled prime minister, who has remained defiant after a week of demonstrations and growing distance from some of his political allies. EURACTIV Turkey reports.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an returned on Thursday (6 June) from a four-day tour in North Africa, delivering a speech at the airport auguring for further confrontation with the protest movement.

Erdo?an was greeted by thousands of supporters at the airport and his speech was broadcast live on television. In the meantime, anti-government protestors gathered in Istanbul’s Taksim Square, dancing and chanting “Tayyip resign”.

On Friday, he is scheduled to attend a conference in Istanbul on EU affairs, along with Füle and other European politicians and officials. Before his visit to Istanbul, Füle hinted that the protests would be high on the agenda.

Füle made an appearance at Istanbul’s Gezi Park, the epicentre of the protests, and posted a photo of his visit on Twitter. “Democracy means listening two parts of the society,” he tweeted on Thursday.

A week of tensions

The Gezi Park protests continued across the country and appear to be fuelled by Erdo?an's non-conciliatory tone with his opponents. Members of his own government in recent days have called for conciliation and apologized for a police crackdown on demonstrators last week.

On Sunday, while announcing that they will not only go on with the project that initially sparked the protests across the country, Erdo?an brought up two more controversial projects about Taksim as well: Replacing the symbolic Atatürk Culture Centre with a new opera house and building a mosque in Taksim.

“I will not ask a bunch of looters [çapulcu] permission for this,” said Erdo?an. As a result, the word 'çapulcu' became hugely popular among the demonstrators during the week with many people including celebrities and managers of prominent companies calling themselves 'çapulcu' as well.

On Monday, Erdo?an left Turkey for a four-day visit to North Africa, temporarily handing over the office to his soft-spoken deputy Bülent Arinç, creating a calmer atmosphere at least in the political scene.

Conciliatory message from the President

President Abdullah Gül on the same day said that the 'the state has got the well-intended message from the people' and underlined that “Democracy does not mean simply elections. It is natural for people to reveal their objections or different views through different means such as demonstrations”.

“People's will is always realised at the ballot box”, said Erdo?an in Morocco shortly afterwards, widely regarded as a rebuttal to Gül's statement. The Turkish prime minister is often criticised as being growingly authoritarian and taking steps without consultations with other relevant parties, confident of his popularity among his own supporters.

Arinç met with President Abdullah Gül on Tuesday and spoke in a much more conciliatory tone, apologising for the injuries inflicted on the peaceful protestors by the police on the first day of demonstrations.

Arinç also met with the 'Taksim Platform' composed of representatives of civil society on Wednesday, who presented concrete demands for the protests to end. These included the cancellation of the plans to demolish the Gezi Park, immediate release of all those arrested during the protests, and resignation of the officials responsible for the injuries. These demands proved to be unlikely later on.

Despite the relatively conciliatory tone employed by the officials, protests and incidents of violence to varying degrees across the country continued during the week.

After the police retreated from Taksim in the weekend, the area became something like a carnival zone attracting huge amounts of people especially after work time. Despite the peaceful atmosphere where the protests began, there are occasional clashes in Be?ikta? district, where the prime minister's Istanbul office is situated and the security tight.

The situation in Ankara remained tense, with clashes around the city intensifying during the night. As the unions went to strike on Wednesday, the tension in the city hit a new high.

A 22-year-old man died by trauma to his head in Hatay province and another in Istanbul, with the latter reportedly caused by a car running into the protestors. A policeman in Adana was announced dead on Thursday, falling off a bridge while chasing protestors.

In Izmir, 38 people were arrested for inciting hatred and riot on Wednesday, apparently because of their messages on social media. Most of them are reported to be released later on.

'Terrorists' and 'foreign agents'

Rhetoric about 'terrorists' and 'foreign agents' regarding the protests is becoming popular among government circles. Like almost all protests involving police intervention, government officials has been warning and complaining about the 'provocateurs' among the ranks of protestors since last week. However, during the past days usage of this rhetoric have intensified.

In an interview with BBC, Minister for EU Affairs Egemen Ba??? said that the protests initially began 'peacefully and sincerely' but eventually 'other groups' became involved, and that they identified '11 different terrorist organizations that have encouraged people to become a part of this demonstration and turned this into a parallel campaign of a vandalism which no country accepts'.

Speaking in Tunisia, Erdo?an echoed Ba??? and said that those responsible for the bombing of US Embassy in Ankara and for the vandalism during Gezi Park protests were the same people. On 1 February this year, a suicide bomber affiliated with the far-left terrorist organization DHKP-C attacked the US Embassy, killing himself and a Turkish security guard.

On Thursday, Turkish media reported that seven foreigners were arrested near Taksim for provoking violence. Arrested people were from Britain, the US, France, Greece and Iran reported Sabah daily, adding that they had diplomatic passports. They were 'suspected to be [foreign] agents' added Zaman.

Erdo?an also commented on the issue during the joint press conference with his Tunisian counterpart, saying prosecutors were dealing with the issue but denied that any of them had diplomatic passports.

Speaking in Tunisia hours before his return, Erdo?an reiterated that he will go on with the project that has sparked the protests, possibly setting his tone for the coming days.

A sit-in against plans to demolish the Gezi Park in Istanbul and replace it by the replica of historical barracks that existed there until the 1940’s sparked the fiercest anti-government protests in recent years over the weekend of 1 and 2 June in Turkey. The EU expressed concern about the use of force by the police as the protest spread to more cities.

The protests initially began as a peaceful occupy-style movement in reaction to plans to demolish a park as part of a wider re-arrangement of the central Taksim Square in Istanbul, but evolved into a general expression of discontent with the government.

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