On Saturday, Turkish Prime Minister, Islamist Tayyip Erdogan called for an immediate end to the most violent anti-government demonstrations seen in Turkey in many years, after two days in which thousands of protesters clashed with riot police in Istanbul and Ankara.
Thousands of protesters in Istanbul celebrated a victory as police gave up, for now, and withdrew from Taksim square. demonstrators shouted for the government to resign as riot police pulled back from the city’s central square.
Reuters reported that Turkish police fired teargas and water cannon on hundreds of demonstrators Friday and Saturday, to block their access to Istanbul’s central Taksim Square, where dozens of people have been injured this week – so much so that even Washington was expressing concern..
Anti-government demonstrators wearing handkerchiefs and surgical masks chanted “unite against fascism” and “government resign,” pushing their way to Taksim Square.
Images and videos coming out of Turkey depict a central Istanbul that has descended into chaos as police in riot gear and gas masks attempt to disperse a group of reportedly peaceful protesters with tear gas canister launchers, vehicle-mounted water cannons and other violent means, IBT reported. The decision to break up the protest came on the fourth day after hundreds set up an encampment associated with the Occupy movement in the Taksim Square Gezi Park.
The protest began at the Park late Monday, after trees were torn up in line with a government redevelopment plan for the area. The park, filled with sycamore trees, is the last large green space in downtown of Istanbul,
But as has been the case in other Muslim countries in recent years, what started as an environmental protest quickly ignited an all out demonstration against the authoritarianism of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and his Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP).
But before there was a protest against development plans, there was a ban on booze. In a surprise move last week, the Islamist government introduced a new law cracking down on the alcohol trade, banning the sale of drinks between 10 PM and 6 AM, and revoking the liquor licenses of restaurants situated close to near schools or mosques.
The partial ban on alcoholic beverages came on Erdogan’s 11th year in office, and after 3 consecutive election victories. From his very first day in office, it was the mission of the Islamist party’s leader to allay the fears both of secular, urban Turks, and—more important—of the secular military, that he was not going to rule with an Islamist agenda.
Erdogan remains the most popular politician in Turkey’s recent history, and has been considered a primary ally of the United States. So much so, that newly elected President Barack Obama visited Ankara before any other place, back in 2009.
Slowly, over his years in office, Erdogan has been pushing a slow, but patient, elimination of Turkey’s strict ban on religion from all public domains, a separation characteristic of modern Turkey since its inception, following the demise of the Ottoman Empire.
Despite Erdogan’s attempt to describe himself as a “Muslim prime minister of a secular state,” in 2008, his majority AKP in parliament passed an amendment to the constitution allowing women to wear the headscarf in Turkish universities.
He talked about encouraging the emergence of a “pious generation,” that would embrace religion willingly, and become better human beings. The new ban on late-night sale of alcohol was also presented not as the enforcement of the Muslim prohibition on booze, but as an effort to stop young Turks from “wandering about in a state of inebriation.”
On Saturday night, meanwhile, Prime Minister Erdogan has admitted there may have been some cases of extreme police action.