Istanbul Calms After Stormy Weekend of anti-Erdogan Protests

Turkey's PM decries the 'menace that is called Twitter' for its role in Taksim demonstrations; Israel is largely absent from the debate.

ISTANBUL – Turkey returned to work Monday after a weekend of stormy demonstrations that spread from Istanbul to the capital Ankara and dozens of cities throughout the country.

In Istanbul's Taksim Square, the focal point of protests against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a few hundred demonstrators remained from the tens of thousands who thronged the area Sunday. The following morning, most people passing through the square, a central commercial and tourist area, appeared on their way to work or school.

Still, some protesters continued through the night building barricades on the roads leading to Taksim to prevent the return of the police, whom Erdogan had ordered to retreat Saturday evening. Demonstrators said they planned to remain there until Erdogan dropped his grandiose building plans for Taksim, but for now he's remaining defiant in his media appearances. 

In other places in Istanbul and throughout Turkey overnight, police clashed with protesters, most of them young people. Demonstrators hurled rocks, while the police responded with tear gas and water cannons. On a main thoroughfare leading to the Bosphorus in Istanbul's Besiktas quarter, thousands of protesters fought the police late into the night trying to reach Dolmabahce Palace, where Erdogan has offices. 

Meanwhile, a storm is raging over the media's role in covering the protests, with the opposition and demonstrators claiming that newspapers and television networks in particular first ignored the protests and then focused on alleged violence by protesters. One of the few independent papers, Zaman, said Monday it was suspending its use of material from state news agency Anadolu in protest over the tone of its coverage.

Erdogan, for his part, has blamed social media, from which most Turks have received their information on the demonstrations. "There is now a menace that is called Twitter," he said. "The best examples of lies can be found there. To me, social media is the worst menace to society."

Israel is never mentioned in the demonstrations and is not an issue in the protest. The opposition includes representatives of parties that support improved relations with Israel, but it also has people even more hostile to Israel than Erdogan and his Islamist-conservative party. One mention of Israel on the social networks has been a photograph showing a tear-gas grenade canister with Hebrew labels purportedly used by the Turkish police against protesters.

There have been no official reports of riot-control equipment coming from Israel, though around three months ago Israel resumed shipments of military equipment as part of a five-year-old deal for the sale of electronic-warfare systems. In some places in Taksim, graffiti reads "Erdogan Zionist." 

It is unclear at this stage when the government plans to order the police back into the square. Their return would almost certainly spark another round of violent confrontations in Turkey's largest city.

Reuters
Reuters