Turkish Unrest Spreads As Erdogan Remains Defiant

Protesters clashed with police across Turkey overnight despite an apology for police violence from the Deputy Prime Minister designed to halt an unprecedented wave of protest against Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan.

Pro-government newspapers signaled a softening of Ankara’s line in the absence of Erdogan, who flew off on a state visit to north Africa on Monday night after a weekend of rioting critics were inflamed by his denunciations of protesters.

Later today Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc will meet organisers of last Friday’s demonstration against plans to build a replica Ottoman-era barracks on Istanbul’s Gezi Park in Taksim Square.

But he refuses to talk to unnamed groups he accuses of exploiting anger over police action against the original protest to foment broader violence.

The meeting was called a day after Arinc, in control of the government in Erdogan’s absence, consulted President Abdullah Gul who has been markedly more restrained in his comments on the protests than the Prime Minister.

Arinc apologized for “excessive violence” by police against the initial Taksim demonstration, comments which contrasted sharply with Erdogan’s defiant dismissal of the protesters as “looters” and comments linking some to “terrorism”.

On Taksim itself, now a gathering point for protesters accusing Erdogan of authoritarian rule, thousands remained at a makeshift camp that is taking on the look of a more enduring settlement. Small tents have appeared, food and face masks are on sale and a library is in the making. On a street off the square some protesters skirmished with police who used tear gas.

Erdogan, who has won three successive elections and has a huge parliamentary majority, did not comment on domestic matters at a news conference in Algiers on Tuesday. His return to Turkey on Thursday and any comments he makes could prove pivotal to the unrest.

“The main concern for the moment is that the prime minister should hold his silence,” said one diplomat close to the administration. “Whatever he says seems to stir feelings.”

U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden, reflecting concern about stability in a NATO ally in the Middle East, urged the Turkish government to respect the rights of political opponents.

“Today’s Turkey has a chance to demonstrate that there’s no need to choose between economic advancement and democracy, the system that empowers the winners of elections and yet protects whose who are in opposition,” Biden said.

The United States has held up Erdogan’s Turkey as an example of an Islamic democracy that could be imitated throughout the Middle East. But domestic opponents argue that, for all the economic advances under him and early democratic reform, events have recently taken a more authoritarian turn.

They also accuse him of pursuing an “Islamist” agenda by easing restrictions on the wearing of headscarves – symbol of female Islamic piety – in state institutions, limiting alcohol sales and promoting broader religious projects. Erdogan denies any ambition to undermine Turkey’s secular constitution.

In the western port city of Izmir, police raided 38 addresses and detained 25 people on suspicion of stirring insurrection on social media with comments on the protest, opposition CHP party deputy Alaattin Yuksel told Reuters.

Police declined comment.

In a television interview this week, Erdogan described social media, including Twitter, as a “scourge”.

Clashes spread overnight to the eastern province of Tunceli, where police fired tear gas and water cannon at hundreds of protesters who set up barricades and threw stones at them, witnesses said.

Police intervened in a similar way against demonstrators in the capital, Ankara, as well in Hatay province on the Syrian border where a 22-year-old man died after being hit in the head at a rally late on Monday.

The DISK union confederation, including unions in the metalworking, health and energy sectors, was due to stage a walkout on Wednesday, joining another labour confederation in a protest against the government.

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