Turkish riot police backed by water cannons yesterday faced off with about 1,000 trade union workers in the capital, Ankara, after a weekend of some of the worst clashes since anti-government protests erupted late last month.
Police officers used megaphones to order workers to stop their march toward Ankara’s Kizilay District.
“Those of you on the streets must stop blocking the streets. Do not be provoked. The police will use force,” they shouted.
Further marches by striking workers were planned in Istanbul later, despite government warnings that demonstrations would not be tolerated.
“There is an attempt to bring people to the streets through strikes and work stoppages. These will not be allowed,” Turkish Minister of the Interior Muammer Guler told reporters.
Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said the government could deploy “elements of the armed forces” to help quell anti-government protests if needed.
“Our police, our security forces are doing their jobs. If it’s not enough then the gendarmes will do their jobs. If that’s not enough ... we could even use elements of the Turkish Armed Forces,” Arinc told Turkey’s state-run TRT television.
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan is seeking to restore calm after weekend unrest during which police fired teargas and water cannon to clear thousands of protesters from around Taksim Square in Istanbul, the focal point of the weeks-long demonstrations.
Police detained 441 people in connection with clashes in Istanbul on Sunday and 56 in Ankara. As violence across several cities entered its 18th day, at least four people have been killed and about 5,000 injured, the Turkish Medical Association said.
What began as a small demonstration by environmentalists upset at government plans to build on Gezi Park adjoining Taksim has grown into a movement against Erdogan, who opponents say is overbearing and meddles in their personal lives.
“We are tired of protesting, we don’t want to keep doing this, we want to return to our lives, but we are tired of this oppressive government constantly interfering,” said Mahmet Cam, a teacher among the striking workers in Ankara.
There were also clashes in the city of Eskisehir, about 200km southeast of Istanbul, where police used teargas and water cannons to disperse crowds and cleared away hundreds of tents, the Dogan news agency reported.
EU Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighborhood Policy Stefan Fuele expressed concern about the unrest in Turkey, whose bid to join the EU has sputtered partly over its rights record.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she was “appalled, like many others” at Turkey’s tough response to the protests.
“What’s happening in Turkey at the moment is not in line with our idea of the freedom to demonstrate or freedom of speech,” she told German broadcaster RTL.