Thousands of striking workers yesterday were set to join mass protests across Turkey against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government after another night of fierce clashes between riot police and angry demonstrators.
Police fired tear gas and water cannon on protesters in major cities, including Istanbul, and in an apparent bid to muzzle dissenting voices, arrested 25 people in Izmir for “misleading and libelous” Twitter posts.
The violence erupted for a fifth night just hours after the government apologized for the police crackdown on initial demonstrations in Istanbul last week over a controversial park redevelopment.
Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc, who said on Tuesday the government had “learned its lesson” and called for an end to protests, was due to meet leaders of the Gezi Park campaign yesterday.
However, many demonstrators said they doubted Arinc could calm the wave of anger among Turks who are demanding that the uncompromising Erdogan steps down.
“It’s not possible for them to stop this by just apologizing,” 24-year-old protester Arda Cevit said, as he helped with a cleanup in Gezi, one of the last spots of green near Taksim Square, the epicenter of the unrest.
“Everyone here wants Tayyip to resign,” Cevit said.
Kerem Aligil, a 21-year-old law student, accused Erdogan of “escaping” the crisis by going ahead with a trip to North Africa despite facing the biggest challenge to his decade-long rule.
Erdogan has taken a tough line over the crisis, dismissing the protesters as “vandals” and “extremists,” while Arinc and President Abdullah Gul have sought to adopt a more conciliatory tone.
The prime minister, who was due in Tunisia yesterday, is seen as an increasingly authoritarian figure, accused of seeking to force conservative Islamic values on Turkey.
The protests looked set to intensify with two major trade union federations, KESK and DISK, which together represent hundreds of thousands of public and private sector workers, rallying in several cities after launching a two-day strike to support the demonstrators.
The main demonstrations in Istanbul were due to start at 10:00 GMT and converge on Taksim Square.
The square itself was relatively quiet at midday, with pockets of flag-waving protesters blowing whistles and playing music in a subdued but festive atmosphere. Taksim has seen no police presence since officers pulled out at the weekend.
In the western city of Izmir, police detained at least 25 people for posting “misleading and libelous information” on Twitter, the Anatolia news agency reported, after Erdogan accused the microblogging site of spreading “lies.”
Ali Engin, a local official for the main opposition Republican People’s Party, told Anatolia that the suspects were being held for “calling on people to protest.”
The UN, the US and other Western partners have voiced concern about reports of heavy-handed police action and called for a full investigation.
“We welcome the deputy prime minister’s comments apologizing for excessive force, and we continue to welcome calls for these events to be investigated,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said.