PM defends police handling of protests as dozens detained across country
Police raided multiple addresses in several cities across Turkey on Tuesday and detained dozens of people over anti-government protests. (Photo: İHA, Gülçin Özden)
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Tuesday defended the way the Turkish police have dealt with the weeks-long demonstrations that began in protest of government plans to demolish a park in İstanbul's central Taksim Square, while police detained dozens of people across the country as part of an investigation into the protests.
Erdoğan said the police acted with “common sense” during the demonstrations, although the police have been heavily criticized for using pepper spray and tear gas to intervene in the ongoing Gezi Park protests sparked by outrage over a violent police action to oust a sit-in by environmentalists in Taksim's Gezi Park on May 31.
“Firing tear gas is a most natural right of the police. Have they fired a bullet? Have they used guns?” Erdoğan asked.
He said in the face of a “comprehensive and systematic movement of violence,” the police displayed an “unprecedented democratic stance and successfully passed the test of democracy.”
“The police have been represented as using violence. Who used violence? All the terrorists, the anarchists, the rioters,” Erdoğan told members of his party.
The protests began in Taksim's Gezi Park three weeks ago due to outrage over the government's plans to build an Ottoman-era barracks on the park and have spread to dozens of cities across the country. Five people, including a policeman, have died and more than 5,000 have been injured in the clashes, according to a Turkish rights group.
On Tuesday, Erdoğan also criticized Turkish labor groups that went on a one-day strike on Monday in support of the protesters.
“Their call [on workers to strike] is against the law. They all think about their own interests. They are the leading provocateurs,” he said.
The Confederation of Public Sector Trade Unions (KESK) announced on Friday that if riot police intervened in Gezi Park again, all the members of KESK in every province would leave their jobs and protest. KESK and the Confederation of Revolutionary Workers' Unions (DİSK), as well as the Turkish Union of Engineers and Architects' Chambers' (TMMOB), the Turkish Doctors' Union (TTB) and the Turkish Dental Association (TDA) all agreed to go on a one-day strike via a statement on Sunday, citing the ruling Justice and Development Party's (AK Party) “aggression” as the reason for the strike.
The labor rallies had a more structured feel than the counterculture-style sit-in at Gezi Park's tent city, and the work stoppage involved many professionals who make up a liberal, urban class that mostly backs the anti-Erdoğan protesters.
Erdoğan, who held two rallies over the weekend in Ankara and İstanbul under the slogan of “Respect for the national will,” also called on his supporters to attend further rallies in Kayseri on Friday, in Samsun on Saturday and in Erzurum on Sunday.
As Erdoğan was speaking, police raided multiple addresses in several provinces across Turkey on Tuesday, detaining dozens of people due to their involvement in Gezi Park demonstrations.
Interior Minister Muammer Güler said 25 people had been detained in the capital, Ankara, and 62 in Turkey's biggest city, İstanbul.
“The operations are against members of the [Turkey-based] Marxist-Leninist Communist Party, who also attended the Gezi Park protests, as part of an investigation being conducted by prosecutors for more than a year,” Güler said.
Teams from the İstanbul Police Department's Counter-terrorism Unit carried out operations in 24 districts of İstanbul, detaining 62 people, including alleged members of the Socialist Platform of the Oppressed (ESP). The detainees were taken to the Forensic Council of Medicine (ATK) for health checks.
Most of the detainees were reported to have joined the Gezi Park demonstrations.
Today's Zaman contributor Rumeysa Kiger, who was part of the group to meet with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan last Wednesday, was among the detainees in İstanbul on Tuesday.
She was detained in Taksim on Tuesday morning during a protest outside the Atatürk Cultural Center.
Her husband said she had not gone to Taksim Square to join the protest but had been passing through on her way to an interview. She was detained while objecting to the police's detention of protesters, he added. He said she is among the group of seven detained as part of the police raid on Tuesday morning in Taksim Square.
In addition, 91 out of the 193 individuals who were taken into custody in İstanbul over the weekend were referred to the court following health checks and subsequent interrogations by the police. In line with laws, the detainees need to undergo health checks every 24 hours. The suspects were interrogated by İstanbul public prosecutors İsa Dalgıç and Tamer Tabel. Forty-two of the detainees who were referred to court on Monday were released on Tuesday following their interrogation.
Later in on Tuesday, 78 out of 91 protesters were released in İstanbul. The office of prosecutor demanded arrest for 13 protesters.
There were also detentions in Ankara on Tuesday. Teams from Ankara Police Department's Counterterrorism Unit conducted operations against a left-wing organization that is accused of organizing the Gezi Park demonstrations. The operations took place at 26 different addresses, resulting in the detention of 25 individuals who are suspected of having ties with illegal, left-wing organizations.
One of the detainees, Mazlum D., in Ankara is accused of burning the Turkish flag during the demonstrations.
In the central Anatolian province of Eskişehir, police detained 13 people who closed a road to traffic and set up a tent in order to give support to the Gezi Park demonstrations.
Two people were also detained in the Marmara province of Kocaeli as part of an investigation into Gezi Park demonstrations. The suspects were detained in Çayırova district.
Police also raided three houses in Kocaeli's İzmit district as part of the same investigation, but no detentions took place since there was no one in the houses.
The demonstrations, which turned violent and occasionally involved vandalism, gained momentum through social media.
Policeman who shot demonstrator identified
The İstanbul Police Office has stated that the policeman who allegedly caused the death of a Gezi Park demonstrator in Ankara, Ethem Sarısülük, has been identified and that information about his identity has been sent to a prosecutor's office. The policeman's gun has been sent for ballistics tests.
Sarısülük's lawyer, Kazım Bayraktar, said an investigation against the policeman, A.Ş., is ongoing and that he will be interrogated by prosecutors.
Veli Dalgalı, the public prosecutor who is investigating the incident, has examined a preliminary autopsy report, a report from the gendarmerie team of experts, witness reports, footage from Mobile Electronic System Integration Project (MOBESE) cameras and security cameras at the site of the incident.
“The prosecutor will receive the deposition of the policeman. His gun has been sent to the İstanbul Forensic Council of Medicine [ATK] for a criminal investigation. We were expecting it to be sent to the gendarmerie criminal department. We will learn from the prosecutor's office why the gun was sent to İstanbul,” Bayraktar said.
Sarısülük, a 26-year-old protester, died in Ankara last week after remaining on life support for nearly two weeks. He was seriously injured on June 1.
In the meantime, Turkey's Education Ministry and Higher Education Board (YÖK) have launched investigations against teachers and university lecturers across the country who allegedly encouraged their students to join in the Gezi Park demonstrations, media reports said on Tuesday.
Toxic substance allegedly added to panzer water
A toxic substance was added to high-pressure water used by police panzers to disperse the Gezi Park protesters, according to a report in the Radikal daily on Tuesday.
The daily, which covered the news in its main story, also featured a photo of two policemen who were adding the alleged toxic substance from a blue bin to the water in a police panzer.
The substance was identified as Jenix, or OC Gas Solution. The daily said it is the liquefied version of pepper spray, which can cause first degree burns to the body. In the directions for use, the label says, “keep away from children,” and “prevent mixing with sewage, underground and surface waters.”
Officials from the company that produces Jenix, in remarks to Radikal, said: “We just produce this substance. The person who uses the police panzer decides on the amount to be mixed with water.”
Demonstrations prove costly for Ankara
A statement from the Ankara Governor's Office said on Tuesday that one person was killed and 381 others injured during the Gezi Park demonstrations in the province.
The statement also noted that 132 public and private workplaces, 71 bank buildings and ATMs, 74 civilian and police automobiles, 30 public transportation vehicles, four fire brigade trucks, 231 signaling-illumination traffic systems, 117 billboards and bus stops and 193 cameras at 75 points were damaged during the demonstrations.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan received Turkish Industrialists and Businessmen's Association (TÜSİAD) President Muharrem Yılmaz on Monday evening when they discussed the Gezi Park demonstrations.
The meeting, which was closed to the press, lasted for one-and-a-half hours.
Speaking to reporters following the meeting, Yılmaz said TÜSİAD is against the creation of an environment of violence and terrorism in the country via acts of vandalism, which it condemns.