Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said yesterday his patience had run out after almost two weeks of anti-government protests and gave a final warning to those occupying a central Istanbul park to leave.
In a speech at a meeting of his Justice and Development (AKP) Party, Erdogan struck back at criticism from the European parliament over the ferocity of a police crackdown and accused some international media of exaggerated reporting.
“Our patience is at an end. I am making my warning for the last time. I say to the mothers and fathers, please take your children in hand and bring them out ... Gezi Park does not belong to occupying forces, but to the people,” he said.
A heavy-handed police crackdown in Gezi Park nearly two weeks ago triggered an unprecedented wave of protests against Erdogan and his AKP.
Erdogan, who has accused foreign forces, international media and market speculators of stoking the unrest and trying to undermine the Turkish economy, said he would “share with the nation” at another AKP meeting today details of what he termed a “game being played with Turkey.”
“It is as if the whole of Turkey is on fire, as if the whole of Turkey is collapsing,” he said of some media coverage, describing it as “deceptive and unethical.”
Riot police looked on from the fringes of Taksim Square in Istanbul, the epicenter of the protests, overnight as crowds mingled, some chanting and dancing, others applauding a concert pianist who took up residence with a grand piano.
It was a contrast to the scene 24 hours earlier, when tear gas sent thousands scurrying into side streets, before authorities bulldozed barricades and reopened the square to traffic for the first time since the troubles began.
Police fired tear gas and water cannon in cities including Ankara last week, while youths threw stones and gasoline bombs. Three people died, one a police officer, and about 5,000 thousand people were injured.
Erdogan met a group of academics, artists and students who support the Gezi Park protests on Wednesday and AKP Deputy Chairman Huseyin Celik said they had discussed the possibility of a referendum on the plans to build on the park.
The offer is one of the only concessions the authorities have publicly floated after days of firm rhetoric from Erdogan refusing to back down. Celik gave few details of how a referendum would be carried out, saying it could either be held across Istanbul, or just in the district near Taksim Square.
The protesters in Gezi Park were skeptical.
“The people the prime minister spoke to he chose. He said they will be the ones representing us, but they don’t represent us. They have nothing to do with what we think,” said Aylin Kaplan, 24.
“From the beginning we have said we have specific requests, we have been clear and open. We do not need a referendum,” she said, repeating the main demand that the government abandon plans to build a replica Ottoman-era barracks in the park.