Middle East

Activists present list of demands in Turkey

Protesters shout anti-government slogans during a demonstration at Taksim Square in central Istanbul June 5, 2013. Turkish trade unionists banging drums and trailing banners marched into an Istanbul square on Wednesday, joining unprecedented protests against Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan over what they see as his authoritarian rule. REUTERS/Osman Orsal

ANKARA, Turkey: Activists on Wednesday presented a list of demands they said could end days of anti-government demonstrations that have engulfed Turkey, as trade unions joined in the outpouring of anger, shouting slogans and wielding banners calling on the prime minister to resign.

Thousands of union members on a two-day strike marched into Istanbul's landmark Taksim Square and central Ankara in a show of support for protesters angry at what they see as Recep Tayyip Erdogan's increasingly authoritarian rule. Police used tear gas and water cannons to break up the gathering in Ankara after allowing demonstrations to continue for some eight hours.

In a move to defuse the tension, the deputy prime minister earlier met with a group whose attempt to prevent authorities from ripping up trees in Taksim has snowballed into the nationwide protests.

Over five days, police have deployed water cannons and tear gas has clouded the country's city centers. The Ankara-based Human Rights Association says close to 1,000 people have been injured and more than 3,300 people have been detained.

The activist group denounced Erdogan's "vexing" style and urged the government to halt Taksim Square redevelopment plans, ban the use of tear gas by police, immediately release detained protesters and lift restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly.

It also demanded that officials responsible for the violent crackdown be removed from office.

The protests appear to have developed spontaneously and remain leaderless. It was not at all certain that the tens of thousands of protesters would heed any call by the group to cease.

The group of academics, architects and environmentalists, known as the "Taksim Solidarity Platform," was formed to try to keep Taksim Square from redevelopment, including the rebuilding of an Ottoman army barracks and a shopping mall. The protests were sparked by fury over a heavy-handed pre-dawn police raid Friday to roust activists camping out in an attempt to stop the plans.

Some of the demonstrations were jovial. In Ankara, protesters sarcastically called themselves "looters," a reference to Erdogan's earlier characterization of the demonstrators. A sign on a stall in Taksim providing free food and water read "Revolution Market." A whirling dervish holding a gas mask entertained spectators in the square.

There were scattered violent clashes overnight on roads leading to Erdogan's offices in Ankara and Istanbul, as well as in the city of Antakya, near the Syrian border, where a protester was killed Wednesday from an apparent blow to the head.

Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc, who is standing in for Erdogan while he is on a trip to Northern Africa, has offered an olive branch to protesters, apologizing for what he said was a "wrong and unjust" crackdown on the sit-in.

Erdogan had inflamed protesters, calling them an extremist fringe, and refusing to back away from plans to revamp Taksim. Thursday could offer a pivotal test of whether Erdogan will soften his line as he returns in the late evening from his trip abroad.

"The steps the government takes from now on will define the course of society's reaction," Eyup Muhcu, the head of a chamber of architects, told reporters after meeting with Arinc.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said earlier this week that the U.S. was troubled by reports of excessive force by the police. He also said Washington is "deeply concerned" by the large number of people who have been injured.

The comments angered Turkey, with Turkey's state-run news agency reporting Wednesday that Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu had a telephone conversation with Kerry and accused the U.S. of treating Turkey "as a second-class democracy." He also complained that Washington did not react to similar protests in other countries, the Anadolu Agency said.

A Foreign Ministry official confirmed the report to The Associated Press.

Kerry has maintained that his comments were not intended as interference in Turkey's internal affairs, but rather an honest expression of the importance the United States places on such values in all countries.

In Turkey's third largest city, Izmir, police detained 25 people for "spreading untrue information" on social media and allegedly inciting people to join the protests, Anadolu reported. They were detained late Tuesday, the agency said. Police were looking for 13 others, it added.

The people were wanted for allegedly "inciting enmity and hatred," the agency said. A lawyer for the suspects denied that claim.

"I have looked at (their) files and examined the tweets," the Radikal newspaper quoted lawyer Sevda Erdan Kilic as saying. "There is nothing there to provoke the people (into rioting). They are sentiments that we all share."

It was not immediately clear what the Twitter comments were.

Turkey's main broadcast media have been criticized for shunning the coverage of police brutality at the protest onset. Many people turned to social media to keep up to date.

Erdogan has referred to social media as "the worst menace to society."





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