Gül says messages of protesters received, calls for restraint

Turkish President Abdullah Gül (Photo: Cihan, Kübra Kara)

June 03, 2013, Monday/ 13:10:00

Democracy is not only about holding regular elections, and this message has been taken from the demonstrations, President Abdullah Gül has said in comments following six days of protests all over the country.

Police used excessive force against demonstrators organizing a sit-in at Gezi Park, which was to be demolished for a government project to rebuild an Ottoman-era barracks, sparking the protests.

“Democracy is not just about voting [someone into power]; the message [the protesters want to convey] has been received. What is necessary will be done,” Gül said on Monday, speaking to a group of reporters in Ankara.

Gül, who spoke to journalists during a reception for a delegation from the İzmir Chamber of Commerce, expressed a view radically different from that of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who had said that his party had gotten nearly 50 percent of the vote, which meant his projects were approved by the people.

The president said: “Democracy is not only about elections. Peaceful demonstrations are part of democracy. We can see the events of recent days from this perspective.”

“These demonstrations have also tested Turkey's democracy. You can see in those countries where there is no democracy or supremacy of law, when we look at Middle Eastern countries, you can see the cost of them. Thankfully these were ended in Turkey before any irreparable pain was experienced,” he added.

The president also warned that illegal organizations and manipulative agitators might step in “after this point.” He said: “Turkey is a country that believes in democracy, and where rules work and the supremacy of law and court rulings work. It's at Western standards.” He also said different beliefs should be respected. “Everyone should feel free,” the president said.

Prime Minister Erdoğan called for calm on Monday, after a weekend of fierce anti-government protests and urged people not to be provoked by demonstrations he said had been organized by "extremist elements."

"Be calm, relax, all this will be overcome," Erdoğan told a news conference at İstanbul Atatürk Airport before his planned departure on an official visit to Morocco.

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets in Turkey's biggest cities over the weekend and clashed with riot police firing tear gas, leaving hundreds of people injured.

The unrest was sparked by protests against government plans to redevelop İstanbul's Taksim Square, long a rallying point for mass demonstrations, but widened into a broad show of defiance against the Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AK Party).

"This is a protest organized by extremist elements," Erdoğan said.

"The fact the AK Party has increased its votes in three elections in a row and has successfully won two referendums shows how the people of this nation have embraced the AK Party."

Clashes had calmed down on Monday, but there were still some incidents. Reports said police fired teargas at some 1,000 protesters, mostly young people, in the capital on Monday. The crowd in the central Kızılay Square were chanting, “Tayyip Resign.”

In İstanbul, thousands gathered outside the NTV news station's office in Maslak. NTV, like many other major outlets, refused to cover the protests in the first two days. When clashes were at their height in Taksim Thursday night, NTV was showing an unrelated documentary. The station also reported on the story, saying: “There are protests against the media. There are also protests against us.” The crowd outside the office dispersed after NTV's live coverage ended.

Though the day has been calm, the night before was violent. Protesters clashed with riot police into the early hours of Monday.

In the western port city of İzmir, protesters threw fire bombs at AK Party offices overnight, and television footage showed part of the building ablaze. Firefighters put out the fire, reports said.

Bus shelters, paving stones and street signs ripped up by protesters to make barricades littered a major avenue by the Bosporus strait in İstanbul where some of the heaviest clashes took place overnight, and graffiti covered walls.

Roads around Erdoğan's office in İstanbul were sealed off as police fired teargas to push back protesters in the early hours of Monday.

In the main street near Erdoğan's office, one demonstrator drove a small mechanical digger towards police lines as other protesters followed behind. At a nearby mosque, medical staff including interns treated those hurt in the clashes.

Police raided a shopping complex in the center of the capital of Ankara where they believed demonstrators were sheltering, detaining several hundreds.

Parliament Speaker Cemil Çiçek also offered comments on the incidents, calling for calm. “We should evaluate all that happened with deep responsibility and common sense and calmly analyze and all together learn the necessary lesson.”

Meanwhile, the Turkish Doctors' Union (TTB) announced on Monday that Socialist Solidarity Platform (SODAP) member Mehmet Ayavalıtaş died after a car hit him during a protest on the TEM Highway. The TTB claimed the driver hit Ayavalıtaş deliberately and accused Prime Minister Erdoğan, who threatened the crowds a few days earlier, saying he would be able to bring together at least 1 million people just by a word from his lips. More detailed information was not available about the accident.

AK Party Deputy Chairman Hüseyin Çelik said in the afternoon that the incidents had been provoked by dark powers. He also claimed there were no plans to build a shopping mall. “If they cut down the trees here and build a mall, I'll go lie down there [in the park] myself first.”