ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — In a series of increasingly belligerent speeches to cheering supporters Sunday, Turkey’s prime minister demanded an end to the 10-day anti-government protests that have spread across the country, saying those who do not respect the government will pay.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his patience was running out with the protesters, who have occupied Istanbul’s main Taksim Square for more than a week and have held hundreds of demonstrations in dozens of cities across the country.
Raising the stakes for those opposing him on Turkish streets and squares, Erdogan said he plans to bring out his supporters for rallies in Ankara and Istanbul next weekend.
Erdogan’s increasingly fiery tone could inflame tensions, with tens of thousands of anti-government protesters in the country’s largest city, Istanbul, and thousands in the capital, Ankara, remaining on the streets. On two occasions, including one in the southern city of Adana on Saturday night, clashes have been reported between Erdogan supporters and protesters.
Protests have been held in 78 cities across the country since May 31, sparked by a violent police crackdown on a peaceful protest objecting to the redevelopment of Taksim Square and its Gezi Park.
They have since morphed into a general denunciation of what many see as Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian ways after a decade in power, and as an attempt to impose his conservative, religious mores in a country governed by secular laws.
The protests have attracted a diverse crowd from all social backgrounds and age groups. Three people have died, including a police officer in Adana who fell into an underpass under construction while chasing demonstrators. More than 4,300 protesters have sought medical treatment, human rights groups have said.
“We showed patience but our patience has its limits,” Erdogan told a crowd of thousands of party supporters who turned out to cheer his arrival at Ankara airport on Sunday, in the third of about seven speeches given through the afternoon and evening.
Looking much like a candidate on a campaign trail, Erdogan delivered speeches at two airports, a sports hall, two Ankara districts and atop a bridge before heading to his party headquarters. At each, thousands of supporters turned out to cheer him.
“Stand firm, don’t yield, Turkey is with you,” they chanted.
Erdogan called repeatedly for the protests to end.
“I call on my brothers who are duped: please put an end to your actions. Look, we have come to these days with patience. As a prime minister I say: enough!”
In a separate speech, he added: “Otherwise I will have to speak the language you understand. Patience has an end. You cannot show Turkey as a country where there is an environment of terror.”
As he spoke, tens of thousands of protesters turned out in Istanbul’s Taksim Square, while thousands more turned out on the seafront in the western coastal city of Izmir, television footage showed. In the capital, police used water cannon to break up a gathering by thousands of demonstrators in Ankara’s Kizilay Square.
Clashes also broke out between about 2,000 protesters and riot police in Sultangazi, a troubled neighborhood on the outskirts of Istanbul populated mainly by Kurds and Alevis.
Erdogan once again belittled the protesters, calling them “capulcu,” the Turkish word for vandals.
“If you look in the dictionary, you will see how right a description this is,” he said. “Those who burn and destroy are called capulcu. Those who back them are of the same family.”
The protesters have turned Erdogan’s label of them as “capulcu” into a humorous retort, printing stickers with the word, scrawling it on their tents and uploading music videos onto social network sites.
“All they do is to break and destroy, to attack public buildings … They didn’t stop at that,” Erdogan said. “They attacked daughters who wear headscarves. They entered Dolmabahce mosque with their beer bottles and their shoes.”
Some of the injured in the initial clashes in Istanbul’s Besiktas area were treated in Dolmabahce mosque. The mosque’s imam has denied reports that people entered with beer. In the initial days of the protests, some women said they were harassed verbally. The majority of protesters, however, have denounced those who did it and have been welcoming toward them.
Deniz Zeyrek, a journalist and political commentator for Radikal newspaper, said Erdogan was seeking to show that he has more supporters than those protesting against him.
“He believes that it will make his support base more dynamic and gain from the crisis, not lose,” Zeyrek said on NTV television. “He is engaged in a race to show which side can garner more supporters.”
Zeyrek said Erdogan’s party had been bussing supporters to airports to greet the prime minister, “whereas the supporters at Kugulu Park (in Ankara) are there on their own initiatives. They went there despite the police batons and the tear gas.”
“He is engaged in a show of force at every stop he makes. This is causing more reaction and making the protesters more determined,” he said.
But Erdogan denied he was trying to raise tension or be divisive, and insisted the protests were a way of undermining a government that was elected with 50 percent of the vote just two years ago.
“Those unable to topple (the governing Justice and Development party) at the ballot box tried to cause turmoil in the country by reverting to this. But this ploy won’t work. We know their game. We have the stubbornness to overturn the game,” he said.
The protesters have been camping out in Istanbul’s Gezi Park for the past 10 days. The park’s redevelopment would replace the park with a replica Ottoman-era barracks, and tear down an old cultural center. Initial plans included a shopping mall, but they have now been ditched in favor a theater, opera house or museum, possibly with cafes.
Erdogan’s tone caused dismay among protesters in Ankara.
“As the prime minister continues (with) his harsh style, the resistance also continues and is getting bigger,” said Cagdas Ersoy, a 23-year-old student who joined the protests in Ankara’s Kizilay square. “He is making the resistance bigger without realizing it.”
Protester Cihan Akburun said: “He should not provoke the people. We invite everyone to (have) common sense.”
Erdogan said his future will be determined not in the street but at the ballot box.
“It’s not these marginal groups, but the people, who are going to call us to account, and they are going to do it at the ballot box,” he said.
Becatoros reported from Istanbul.