Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Fiery Erdogan challenges protesters

A youth makes the V-sign as a police water cannon shoots during clashes in the Sultangazi suburb, northwestern Istanbul (AP/Thanassis Stavrakis)

Turkey's prime minister climbed on top of a bus to give a fiery speech to thousands of his supporters, challenging increasingly angry anti-government protesters to beat his party at the ballot box after they flooded the streets for a 10th day of demonstrations.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan travelled to two cities where unrest has occurred and again condemned his detractors as "a handful of looters" and vandals.

In the southern city of Adana, where pro and anti-government protesters clashed on Saturday night, Mr Erdogan greeted supporters from the top of a bus before lashing out at his opponents in the highly polarised country.

"We won't do what a handful of looters have done. They burn and destroy... They destroy the shops of civilians. They destroy the cars of civilians," Mr Erdogan told supporters who had greeted him at Adana airport. "They are low enough to insult the prime minister of this country."

He urged his supporters to avoid violence themselves and predicted that his Islamic-rooted party would defeat his opponents during local elections in March.

"I want you to give them the first lesson through democratic means in the ballot box," he said.

The nationwide anti-government protests were sparked by outrage over police use of force against an environmental protest in Istanbul on May 31, and have grown into a display of discontent toward Mr Erdogan's government. Many accuse the prime minister of becoming increasingly authoritarian after 10 years in power and of trying to impose his conservative, religious mores in the country which is governed by secular laws.

Mr Erdogan has rejected the accusations, insisting he respects all lifestyles and is the "servant" of his people. He has repeatedly branded the protests as illegal efforts to discredit his government ahead of local elections next year. He frequently refers to the 50% majority he received in elections in 2011 to dismiss the protest as attempts by a minority group to dominate over a majority of his supporters.

"As long as you walk with us, the Justice and Development Party administration will stand strong," Mr Erdogan said, referring to his party. "As long as there is life in my body, your prime minister and your party chairman, God willing, will not be deterred by anything."

He then travelled to the city of Mersin, where anti-protests have been held, to make a similar speech and to open new sports facilities, where he defended his government's democratic credentials, and criticised protesters for not taking to the streets to defend the rights of female students who were barred from studying at Turkish universities because of bans enforced by previous governments on Islamic-style headscarves.

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