Turkish protester shot dead near Syrian border
Turkey's Prime Minister has blamed “extremists” for inciting tensions as reports unfold of the second death during the country's unrest, in which thousands of protesters have taken to the streets of Istanbul and cities across the nation for a fourth day of anti-government demonstrations.
A protester, named as 22-year-old Abdullah Comert, was shot dead late yesterday during an anti-government demonstration in Antakya, a town in the south of the country near the Syrian border, according to the provincial governor's office.
A statement said that it was not initially clear who opened fire at the Antakya rally, killing Comert, reportedly a member of the main opposition Republican People's Party's youth branch.
Earlier, the Turkish Doctor's Union had said that a 20-year-old called Mehmet Ayvalitas had been killed on Sunday when he was hit by a car that ignored warning to stop and ploughed through a crowd of protesters in Istanbul.
Police again used tear gas in Istanbul in an attempt to quell the protests, which began on Friday, when authorities launched a pre-dawn raid against a peaceful demonstration against plans to cut down trees in the city's Taksim Square to make way for a shopping centre.
The protests, which grew in reaction to the police anti-riot response, have since spiralled into the biggest anti-government disturbances Turkey has seen in years. More than 1,000 people have been injured in the past four days, according to medical officials.
Some protesters demanded the resignation of the Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whom they accuse of being “authoritarian”, and of forcing his conservative, Islamic views into the everyday lives of secular Turks.
Mr Erdogan, who has been in power since 2003, has rejected the accusations, and has called the protesters “extremists”, “looters” and a “minority” trying to force their demands on the majority. He called for calm as he rejected claims that the protests in Turkey could be compared to the Arab Spring.
“This is a protest organised by extremist elements,” Mr Erdogan said, speaking to reporters before flying to Morocco on an official visit. “We will not give away anything to those who live arm-in-arm with terrorism.”
Referring to the nation’s free elections, he said: “We already have a spring in Turkey… but there are those who want to turn this spring into winter... Be calm, these will all pass”.
Meanwhile the country’s main stock exchange dropped 10.5 per cent, as investors reacted to the destabilising effect of the protests. A group of Turkish doctors also claimed that one protester had died after a vehicle slammed into a crowd in Istanbul, though this could not be verified.
Mr Erdogan played down the drop in the markets on Monday, saying: “It’s the stock market, it goes down and it goes up. It can’t always be stable.”
Turkey’s President Abdullah Gul, a prominent member of Mr Erdogan’s ruling AK party, defended peaceful protests as part of democracy. In comments to reporters, Mr Gul, also called called for calm, and said the “necessary messages” from the protests had been noted.
The Obama administration urged authorities in Turkey to exercise restraint and all sides to refrain from violence. The White House said the US believes the vast majority of those protesting have been peaceful citizens, exercising their rights to free expression.
On Monday thousands of protesters occupied the centre of Istanbul, centring in Taksim Square and Gezi Park, the origin of the protests. Many have set out tents in the park, as well as distribution points for food, drinks and spray cans of water mixed with vinegar, used by protesters to protect themselves from the effects of tear gas. Chants of “Erdogan istifa! (Erdogan, resign!)” could be heard throughout the day, but there were no other clear demands from the protesters.
“Now people don’t know what to do, they want different things, nobody was thinking of anything precise when they started protesting,” said Idil Akin, a 21-year-old university student, who was sitting next to the monument to the Turkish Republic and its founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, in the centre of Taksim Square. “Some say they’ll go home if [Erdogan] apologises, some say they’ll go home if he resigns, some say they won’t go home until the whole system changes”, she said.
Turkey’s Public Workers Unions Confederation, which represents 240,000 members, said on Monday it would hold a “warning strike” on 4 and 5 June against the government’s response to the protests.
Belfast Telegraph Digital