Trouble in Turkey



Anti-government protests are continuing across Turkey even after the government expressed regret over the excessive force used by the police against the protesters in the first few days of the week-old turmoil.

It had used armoured personnel carriers and water cannons against  the protesters who were largely peaceful, resulting in the death of at least two people and injuries to many.  While prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had two days ago called the protesters looters the deputy prime minister has now even called the protests legitimate. The government initially misread the popular mood and claimed that the protests were manufactured by the opposition or inspired by foreign elements. The spontaneity and range of the protests in Istanbul, Ankara and other places gave the lie to the government’s claims and it has now softened its position.

The unrest started as a protest against a government plan to cut down trees to build a mall, a residential complex and a mosque in Istanbul Taksim Square area. It was only a spark and it released the pent-up resentment against Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party  (AKP) government. The mildly Islamist party and Erdogan has been in power since 2002. The government has become increasingly authoritarian in the recent past. Turkey has a strong secular tradition, with the army taking the role of the protector of that tradition. But the army has been weakened now and secularists fear that Erdogan has a long-term Islamist agenda. Liberals have accused the government of suppression of freedom of expression and  minority rights and undemocratic conduct. Every section of the society which had a grievance against the government.

The protests cannot be compared with the uprisings against dictatorships in Egypt, Libya or Tunisia which brought about regime changes. They are more a warning to the Erdogan government against adopting increasingly authoritarian policies. The AKP rule has brought about economic development and raised the status and prestige of Turkey in the international arena. Erdogan might still be the most popular leader in the country. But the party had only won about 50 per cent votes in the last elections. Three consecutive victories and the weakness of the opposition perhaps made the leadership arrogant and overconfident.  It has alienated many sections which had supported it in the elections. The agitation on the streets is a sign of that.

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