Defiant Turkish PM accuses rivals of fomenting violence

Last Updated: Sunday, March 16, 2014 - 03:31

Istanbul: Embattled Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan struck a defiant tone on Saturday, implicitly accusing his rivals of fomenting violence two weeks ahead of key local elections.

"We do not want anyone to equip our youngsters with Molotov cocktails, stones and knives and send them to the streets," he said following mass protests this week in which two people died.

"We will not tolerate new waves of tension and death. We will never let the streets become battlegrounds," Erdogan said in a speech near Istanbul.
Later today, addressing a campaign rally in the southern city of Adana, the prime minister warned: "We will teach a big lesson to those who have started an uprising against the Turkish republic."

He added: "It is obvious that those who gave up hope in the ballot box are looking to the streets. I call on the leaders of opposition parties to act responsibly."

Clashes erupted across the country as people turned out to mourn the death on Tuesday of Berkin Elvan, a 15-year-old boy who was hit by a tear gas cannister fired by police during anti-government protests last year.

Elvan, who spent 269 days in a coma, became a symbol of the heavy-handed tactics used by police to quash the biggest protests that Erdogan has faced since coming to power in 2003 at the head of an Islamist-rooted party.

On Wednesday, a 22-year-old man was shot dead in Istanbul and a 30-year-old policeman died in the eastern city of Tunceli of a heart attack caused by police tear gas.

Erdogan -- who is also embroiled in a spiraling corruption scandal -- has so far refused to directly acknowledge the deaths publicly.

Instead, he said Elvan was linked to a "terrorist organisation" and accused opponents of trying to stir up chaos ahead of the March 30 elections -- the first since the corruption scandal broke on December 17.

The prime minister has vowed to step down if his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) loses the local polls, seen as a referendum on his rule, with opinion polls showing that the scandal is already taking a toll.

Analysts say that Erdogan -- himself a former Istanbul mayor -- is particularly afraid of losing in Istanbul, Turkey`s largest and wealthiest city ruled by the AKP since 2004.

AFP

First Published: Sunday, March 16, 2014 - 03:31

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