Belfast Telegraph

Friday 11 July 2014

Unions urge strikes to back protest

Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan salutes supporters (AP)

Turkish unions and opponents of prime minister Recep Erdogan have rallied by the thousands across the country, hoping to turn weeks of small-scale protests into wider discontent.

Two major unions urged their members to hold a one-day strike and join demonstrations in response to a police crackdown against activists who led a wave of protest that have centred on Istanbul's Taksim Square and Gezi Park in recent weeks.

The show of force follows a weekend in which police purged activists from an 18-day sit-in at the park that has come to symbolise defiance against the government, while Mr Ergodan's conservative political base held huge rallies in both Istanbul and Ankara.

The latest rallies had a more structured feel compared with the counter-culture-style sit-in at Gezi and spontaneous protests of recent weeks, which at times devolved into clashes between stone-throwing youths and riot police firing tear gas and water cannons.

The rallies went on despite a warning from the interior minister that participants in unlawful demonstrations would "bear the legal consequences."

In Ankara thousands of demonstrators waving union flags converged at central Kizilay Square in an uneasy face-off about 50 yards away from riot police and a line of trucks. After about three hours, the protesters left peacefully.

Behind the strikes were the KESK confederation of public sector workers and DISK, a confederation of unions from industries including transport, construction, health care and media. Together they say they represent 330,000 workers. Small unions that group professionals like dentists, doctors and engineers also joined in.

The standoff between police and protesters began as an environmentalists' rally. But a police crackdown lit a fuse on much broader anger and morphed the movement into a protest against Mr Erdogan's government.

His opponents have grown increasingly suspicious about what they consider a gradual erosion of freedoms and secular Turkish values under his Islamic-rooted party's government. It has passed new curbs on alcohol and tried, but later abandoned its plans, to limit women's access to abortion. Five people, including a policeman, have died and more than 5,000 have been injured, according to a Turkish rights group.

Mr Erdogan has been praised for shepherding Turkey to strong economic growth as many other world economies lagged. But his government's handling of the protests has dented his international reputation. He has blamed the protests on a nebulous plot to destabilise his government and repeatedly lashed out at reports in foreign media and chatter in social media about the situation.

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