Turkey protests: PM Erdogan issues 'final warning to troublemakers' as death toll rises to five and crowds prepare for clashes in Taksim Square

Demonstrators stockpiling face masks and goggles to protect against tear gas

Richard Hall
Thursday 13 June 2013 20:44 BST

"Troublemakers" will be removed from Istanbul's Taksim Square within 24 hours, Turkey's prime minister declared today, rejecting the European Parliament's resolution condemning the excessive use of force by riot police against demonstrators.

"Our patience is at an end. I am making my warning for the last time," Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said.

"I say to the mothers and fathers please take your children in hand and bring them out ...

"We cannot wait any more because Gezi Park does not belong to occupying forces but to the people," he added.

He also lashed out at the European Parliament over its non-binding motion for a resolution that expressed its concern over "the disproportionate and excessive use of force" by Turkish police.

He said: "I won't recognise the decision that the European Union Parliament is going to take about us ... Who do you think you are by taking such a decision?"

His comments come after Amnesty International harshly criticised the use of excessive violence by police as the death toll increased to five during two weeks of unrest.

A protester injured during clashes with riot police died after he was reportedly hit on the head by a tear gas canister during protests in Ankara, according to lawyers. Ether Sarisuluk, 26, who had been on a life support for 12 days, was pronounced dead on Thursday.

The protests look set to continue today despite a referendum offer over a contested development plan presented yesterday by Mr Erdogan's party. The offer was made by Justice and Development party spokesman Huseyin Celik after talks between Mr Erdogan and a group of activists. It was the first move by his government to end the stand-off.

There was an uneasy calm throughout the day on Wednesday in the square and in Gezi Park — where the protests began nearly two weeks ago over the government's proposed redevelopment of the area.

Demonstrators in the park itself were stockpiling face masks and goggles to protect against tear gas, and rebuilding barricades that had been destroyed by police. A few hundred police were gathered in groups around the square with mobile water canons standing nearby.

Around 1,000 people were injured, according to doctors, as police moved in to clear the square on Tuesday afternoon, firing volleys of tear gas and rubber bullets. The clashes continued into the early hours of the morning, both in the park and in the side streets surrounding the square, as a small number of protesters responding with fireworks.

Amnesty International criticised the use of excessive use of force by police, and blamed Mr Erdogan for inciting protesters.

“Never has there been a time when police violence was this widespread and this sustained. It is unprecedented,” Andrew Gardner, the group's Turkey researcher, told The Independent.

“Police have been using tear gas as a punitive measure, rather than for crowd dispersal as it is intended. There have been cases where police are firing directly at protesters, causing serious head injuries. They are also firing tear gas into buildings, which can be very dangerous.”

He added: “The violence we saw [on Tuesday] was a direct result of inflammatory statements made by him.”

The recent unrest and violent response could affect Turkey’s bid to join the European Union.

The German foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle said the government’s reaction to the crisis was sending the wrong signal.

“We expect Prime Minister Erdogan to de-escalate the situation, in the spirit of European values, and to seek a constructive exchange and peaceful dialogue,” he said in a statement.

The French EU affairs minister, Thierry Repentin threatened to jeopardise plans to restart talks on Turkey's bid to join the single currency.

“No democracy can be built on the repression of people who try to express themselves in the street,” Mr Repentin said. “The right to protest, to oppose the government, must be respected.”

The protests that have been taking place in Istanbul and other cities across Turkey started as a small demonstration against plans to build an Ottoman style shopping centre in Taksim Square, but it has grown into a wider movement uniting those opposed to what they perceive as the authoritarian rule of Mr Erdogan, who had earlier predicted that the protests would end within 24 hours.

"I have given orders to the interior minister,” Mr Erdogan reportedly said yesterday afternoon after a meeting with Turkey’s shopkeepers’ union. “This will be over in 24 hours,” he said, adding that no young protesters would should be harmed.

Many of the protesters also share a concern that Mr Erdogan is imposing an Islamist agenda on a country that has traditionally been secular — although most of the population is Muslim.

In one of few concilatory moves made by Mr Erdogan since the protests began, the prime minister was due to meet with representatives of group's opposed to Gezi Park's redevelopment. But members of the Taksim Solidarity campaign group who spoke to The Independent said the 11-person delegation chosen to meet Mr Erdogan was not representative of the protesters.

Taking a softer tone than Mr Erdogan, meanwhile, Turkey's president Abdullah Gul appeared to concede that it was time for the government to engage with its critics, but also condemned violent protesters.

“If people have objections... then to engage in a dialogue with these people, to hear out what they say is no doubt our duty,” Gul told reporters, according to Reuters. “Those who employ violence are something different and we have to distinguish them... We must not give violence a chance... This would not be allowed in New York, this would not be allowed in Berlin.”

Even as Mr Erdogan has begun to show signs that he is searching for a solution to the ongoing demonstrations, the number of protesters has been buoyed by people angry at the violent response by police.

In a makeshift hospital in the north corner of the park this afternoon, doctors reported seeing wounds caused by rubber and plastic bullets, head injuries as a result of tear gas canisters being fired directly at protesters, and severe breathing difficulties caused by the gas itself.

The first aid centre is staffed by around 15 volunteer doctors, as well as some medical students and volunteers. Among them are brain surgeons, GPs and orthopedics, most of whom said they were apolitical.

The small corner of Gezi Park was a hive of activity as the volunteers prepared the space to receive injured protesters they anticipated would be arriving shortly.

One doctor, who refused to give her name for fear of reprisals, claimed many volunteer medical staff had been detained at their homes for treating wounded protesters.

“We think police have been coming to the park wearing civilian clothes to take pictures of the doctors,” said the doctor, who works as a GP in Istanbul.

“We are scared to leave the park on our own now. The police are trying to intimidate us.”

In Ankara and Istanbul, thousands of lawyers railed against what they described as the rough treatment of their colleagues, dozens of whom were briefly detained by police in Istanbul on Tuesday.

Sema Aksoy, the deputy head of the Ankara lawyer's association, said the lawyers were handcuffed and pulled over the ground.

“Lawyers can't be dragged on the ground!” the demonstrating lawyers shouted as they marched out of an Istanbul courthouse.

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