Turkish PM Erdogan returns to Istanbul, urges end to protests

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told supporters that protests across the country must end immediately.

Zee Media Bureau

Istanbul: Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday told supporters that protests across the country must end immediately.

Addressing more than 10,000 supporters outside Istanbul`s international airport on his arrival from a four-day North Africa tour, the Turlish PM told supporters that the protests bordered on illegality.

Despite earlier comments that suggested he could be softening his stand, Erdogan delivered a fiery speech: "These protests that are bordering on illegality must come to an end as of now.”

Tens of thousands of protesters have held demonstrations that have spread to dozens of cities across Turkey, sparked by the violent police reaction last Friday to what started out as a small protest against a plan to develop Istanbul`s central Taksim Square.

Since then, three people have died — two protesters and a policeman — and thousands have been wounded. One protester is on life support in a hospital in Ankara.

Protesters from all walks of life have occupied the square and its park, objecting to what they say is Erdogan`s increasingly autocratic and arrogant manner — charges he vehemently denies.

Turks have been awaiting Erdogan`s words upon his return, seeing them as a signal of whether the demonstrations would fizzle or rage on.

Erdogan at times was almost drowned out by his supporters, part of the base that has helped him win three landslide elections. "God is Great," they chanted, and soon moved on to slogans referring specifically to the protesters in Taksim Square.

"Let us go, let us smash them," they shouted. "Istanbul is here, where are the looters?"

Erdogan had initially referred to the protesters as looters and troublemakers, while also acknowledging that excessive police force might have been used, and promising it would be investigated.

Erdogan`s speech, delivered from atop an open-air bus outside the airport terminal, appeared at first to be an attempt to strike a unifying note.

"They say I am the Prime Minister of only 50 percent. It`s not true. We have served the whole of the 76 million from the east to the west," he said, referring to his election win in 2011, when he took 50 percent of the vote.

"Together we are Turkey. Together we are brothers," he said, adding "We have never endeavored to break hearts. We are in favor of mending hearts."

But he soon became more combative.

"We have never been for building tension and polarisation. But we cannot applaud brutality," he said.

In his last speech in Tunisia before flying to Istanbul, Erdogan had said that terrorist groups were involved in the protests, saying they had been identified.

In a twist, Erdogan implied that bankers were also part of a conspiracy that was fuelling the protests. He added that the flames of dissent had been fanned by other groups too.

"Those who call themselves journalists, artists, politicians, have, in a very irresponsible way, opened the way for hatred, discrimination and provocation," he said.

So far, 4,300 people have been hurt or sought medical attention for the effects of tear gas during the protests, the Turkish Human Rights Foundation said. One person is on life support in Ankara.

Interior Minister Muammer Guler said more than 500 police officers had been injured. A total of 746 protests had erupted, causing some 70 million Turkish Lira (USD 37 million) in damages, he said. Nearly 80 protesters were still hospitalised, and almost all detained protesters had been released.

(With Agency inputs)