Deputy PM apologizes for excessive force used against peaceful protesters

Turkish President Abdullah Gül (R) had a meeting with Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç on Tuesday at the Çankara presidential palace in Ankara. (Photo: President’s Office)

June 04, 2013, Tuesday/ 10:00:00

Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç has apologized for the undue and disproportionate force used by police against an initially peaceful group of protesters in Taksim's Gezi Park in recent days.

Arınç held a press conference as the acting prime minister of the country on Tuesday during which he apologized to peaceful protestors who were exposed to excessive force applied by police. Arınç made a distinction between the peaceful demonstrations held by environmentalists and the ensuing violent protests, adding that the ensuing fierce protests across the country have cost the country over TL 70 million.

The Taksim incidents started last Wednesday when a group of environmentalists gathered in Gezi Park to protest government plans to build a replica of the Topçu Barracks in the park as part of the Taksim urban renewal project. Hundreds joined the group after the police used pepper spray and tear gas to disperse them.

Arınç also said on Tuesday that he would meet with some of the original organizers of the protest and raised the possibility of a referendum on the Taksim project. He said he wanted environmentalists and animal rights activists to know that the government was ready to listen to them.

"There is a need to communicate clearly, to remove the confusion in people's minds. In line with this, today we will meet with the associations and representatives of those who initiated the lawsuit ... to learn their views," the deputy prime minister told the press.

Later in on the day, the Turkish media reported that Arınç is set to accept representatives from the Taksim Gezi Park Platform to exchange of views over the recent incidents.

He further stated that the government will inform the public in detail when drafting future legislation, including plans related to Taksim Square, and will pay heed to people's opinions.

Gül met on Tuesday with Arınç to discuss nation-wide protests which began last week in İstanbul against policies of the government. Arınç is acting prime minister while Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is on an official visit to Morocco.

The two met for 45 minutes and discussed the recent protests in a meeting that was closed to the press.

While Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan rejected the protesters' demands that he resign and dismissed the demonstrations, Gül, for his part, praised the mostly peaceful protesters, noting that they were exerting their democratic rights.

“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.

“I had a positive meeting with our president, and I have [his] instructions,” Arınç told reporters following the meeting.

PM says Turkey will normalized in a few days

Erdoğan on Monday remained defiant. Some have commented that this might be why Gül called for an emergency meeting with Arınç on Tuesday. Speaking to reporters with his Moroccan counterpart at a joint press conference during his official visit to Morocco, Erdoğan said the protests will be over soon after he returns to the country.

When asked about Gül's comments that the message of the demonstrations has been received, Erdoğan said he didn't get any message and wasn't sure what the president meant by “message.”

Erdoğan is on a visit to Morocco along with 200 businesspeople to deepen economic and social ties with the North African country.

A 22-year-old protester, Abdullah Cömert, was killed late on Monday at a rally in the southern town of Antakya near the Syrian border, the provincial governor's office said, the second death related to the nation-wide anti-government protests after a taxi hit a demonstrator in Istanbul on Sunday. It was not clear who opened fire at the Antakya demonstration. Cömert died of a head injury, an autopsy report found Tuesday. He was a member of the main opposition Republican People's Party's (CHP) youth branch.

In another development, Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) deputy Sırrı Süreyya Önder, who was a key figure in the early days of the protest for having stopped a bulldozer from tearing up a tree, spoke with Arınç on Tuesday. He was also supposed to meet with President Gül Tuesday early evening. Önder is expected to offer suggestions to reduce the tension in the street.

Meanwhile, the İstanbul Prosecutor's office said all 261 people who so far have been detained in demonstrations were released on Tuesday. There were no figures from other cities, although Ankara prosecutors had also released a dozen with no charges on Monday.

Unions join in

Turkey's workers unions also announced they will be holding strikes .The Public Workers Unions Confederation (KESK), which represents 240,000 members, began a two-day "warning strike" at midday on Tuesday to protest at the police crackdown on what had begun as peaceful protests. The Federation of Revolutionary Workers' Unions (DİSK) also announced it will call a strike on Wednesday and that its members will march to Taksim Square at noon.

There was another demonstration in front of the İstanbul Courthouse in Çağlayan on Tuesday. Hundreds of people gathered outside the courthouse in an event organized by the Contemporary Jurists' Association (ÇHD).

The Turkish Public Workers' Labor Union (Kamu-Sen) İstanbul branch Chairman Hanefi Bostan also made a statement, calling on the government and protesters to act with common sense. Bostan said the world was increasingly adopting the understanding of a pluralist democracy, which respects the opinions of all societal segments. He also criticized the government policies of the past decade, saying people have lost their rights under the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government. He also said court orders were being ignored by public agencies and those who oppose injustices are often re-assigned to “exile” positions. “These are inhuman practices that should never occur in a place where there is democracy, justice and the rule of law.

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