ISTANBUL -- Police clashed with anti-government protesters in major cities around Turkey for a fourth day Monday as one of the country’s biggest public service unions threatened a nationwide strike Tuesday to show its discontent with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government.
In Ankara, police in helicopters, firing tear gas and plastic bullets, pursued groups of demonstrators throughout the city, Turkish television reported; on the ground, they discharged tear gas at one group of about 1,000 demonstrators. But more young people flocked to the city center.
In the western port city of Izmir, protesters threw fire bombs at the offices of Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party overnight, setting the building ablaze, Turkish television reported.
In Istanbul, where the protests began over the government’s plans to build a shopping center in one of the few parks in the city center, a Turkish doctors association announced the first fatality of the clashes – a young leftist who was killed when a car struck him during a protest on a major highway.
The Obama administration Monday took the unusual step of delivering a public dressing down of the Turkish government, a vital ally, for excess use of force.
Secretary of State John Kerry called for “a full investigation” of reports of excessive force and “full restraint from police.” He urged both the government and the protesters “to avoid any provocations and violence.”
The White House said those protesting were peaceful, law-abiding citizens, exercising their right to free expression – a very different take on the nature of the protests from that offered by Erdogan.
The combative leader, boasting that he’s won three elections and has the support of half the country, showed no intention of defusing the tensions, which erupted after police used heavy-handed tactics against a peaceful protest in Istanbul’s Gezi Park that began last week after workers began chopping down trees. After calling the protesters “looters” and “extremists” over the weekend, he charged on Monday that they were walking “arm in arm with terrorists,” Reuters reported.
The secularist opposition party, the Republican People’s Party, or CHP, “could have provoked the uprising,” Erdogan said, adding: “If not the CHP, who else is there?” Then he hinted that he had the power to order up counterdemonstrations. “There is a 50 percent (of the population) we are having trouble keeping at home,” he said. “We are saying, ‘Careful, calm.’”
Erdogan, a leader in the Islamic world who left on a three-day trip to Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia on Monday, has built the Turkish economy to be one of the strongest in Europe, restored civil control over the military and launched immense public works projects. But he routinely dismisses the political opposition in Parliament as treasonous and has intimidated the country’s news media into a submissive stance.
Erdogan also has a reputation as a micro-manager. He personally ordered what had been planned as a replica of an artillery barracks be turned into a shopping mall after a board of conservation rejected the plan.
Thousands of demonstrators gathered outside the all-news NTV channel Monday, protesting that it had failed to cover the protests in the first two days.