Turkey rules out early polls, thousands defy call to end protest

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s AK Party yesterday ruled out early elections as tens of thousands of anti-government demonstrators defied his call for an immediate end to protests.

Huseyin Celik, deputy chairman of the Justice and Development (AK) Party founded by Erdogan just over a decade ago, said local and presidential elections would be held next year as planned, and a general election in 2015.

“The government is running like clockwork. There is nothing that necessitates early elections,” he told reporters after a meeting of the party’s executive committee in Istanbul.

“The world is dealing with an economic crisis and things are going well in Turkey. Elections are not held because people are marching on the streets.”

A few kilometres away, tens of thousands of Turks defied Erdogan’s call on Friday for an immediate end to anti-government demonstrations, massing again in the central Taksim Square, where riot police backed by helicopters and armoured vehicles first clashed with protesters a week ago.

Tourists and curious locals swelled their numbers around a makeshift protest camp in Gezi Park, a leafy corner of the square where activists have been sleeping in tents and vandalised buses, or wrapped in blankets under plane trees.

Senior AK officials said they had discussed calling a rally of their supporters in Istanbul or Ankara next week but no decision had yet been taken, with some party figures urging restraint for fear of provoking the situation on the streets.

What began as a campaign against government plans to build over the park spiralled into an unprecedented display of public anger over the perceived authoritarianism of Erdogan and his Islamist-rooted AK Party, leading to the worst riots in decades.

In a rare show of unity, thousands of fans from Istanbul’s three main football clubs Besiktas, Galatasaray and Fenerbahce, who have helped organise some of the protests, marched on Taksim roaring “Tayyip resign!” and “Arm in arm against fascism!”

Police fired teargas and water cannon in the Kizilay district of central Ankara late yesterday to try to disperse protesters blocking roads and burning bonfires in the streets.

There were similar scenes overnight in Istanbul’s working-class Gazi neighbourhood, which saw heavy clashes with police in the 1990s. Three people have been killed and close to 5,000 injured around the country since the violence began a week ago.

Thousands protested in Berlin, home to a large Turkish population, waving red Turkish flags and chanting “Occupy Gezi”.

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