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June 7th, 2013

Turkish Police Try to Keep Peace Amid Anti-Government Protests

A small demonstration of residents hoping to save a park from being destroyed has morphed into anti-government clashes between demonstrators and police in cities across Turkey.

Young protestors march near Taksim Square on June 3, 2013 in Istanbul, Turkey.

Young protestors march near Taksim Square in Istanbul, Turkey, on June 3, 2013.

Gezi Park, which is located less than a mile from the Prime Minister’s office in Istanbul, is marked for demolition as part of an urban redevelopment project. The demonstrators were protesting the loss of public green space to a shopping mall.

Despite the peaceful nature of the protest, police used tear gas and water cannons to break up the crowd, prompting public anger.

Since then, the protests have grown into a larger movement that is calling for the government to resign.

Some in Turkey feel disrespected by their leaders

“I’m here because of [Prime Minister] Erdogan – we are against him,” Yasemin Cakici, a teacher in Istanbul told the BBC.

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Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan participated in a joint press conference with President Barack Obama at the White House May 16, 2013.”He’s a dictator. Whenever we want to say our beliefs he always says: ‘No you can’t speak. You are lying and you are very little.’”

However, not everyone in Turkey is concerned that the country is turning into an authoritarian state.

“I’m very upset by what I see,” Omar Sarikaya, a screenwriter told the BBC. “This has nothing to do with peace. They don’t listen to the government.”

Is this a “Turkish Spring”?

The clashes have evoked comparisons with the 2011 Arab Spring, in which demonstrators across the Middle East protested their authoritarian leadership, leading to the downfall of leaders in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.

However, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan dismissed these comparisons, saying “Those in Turkey who speak of the Turkish Spring are right; the season is, in fact, spring,” he said. “But there are those trying to turn it into a winter.”

Instead, he blames extremists, opposition political parties and foreigners for organizing the protests.

“There are those attending these events organized by extremists. This is not about Gezi Park anymore. These are organized events with affiliations both within Turkey and abroad.”

Leaders of other Middle Eastern countries, including Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, have blamed outsiders for stirring up discontent.

A growing movement

Although the protests began in Istanbul, anti-government demonstrators have clashed with police in cities across Turkey, including the capital Ankara.

Some Turkish citizens are concerned with the conservative direction PM Erdogan is taking the country.

“In the last months the prime minister started to adopt very conservative measures including talk of curbing abortion and limiting where people can drink alcohol,” Bayram Balci of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace told Global Post.

“People do not like this intrusion into their private lives and the project of Taksim was a pretext for them to manifest their dissatisfaction.”

Turks have traditionally prided themselves for their secular, democratic and progressive policies in a region where this is rare.

But while few believe that the protests will actually force PM Erdogan out of office, there is no doubt that the political mood in the country has changed.

“If I were [PM Erdogan's] adviser I would advise him to abandon this project,” said Balci. “This is too bad for him. But his problem is that he is very proud — he has a big ego.”

– Compiled by Allison McCartney for NewsHour Extra

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