Turkish PM begins addressing ruling party supporters in Istanbul
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan speaks at the meeting of Turkish government supporters in Ankara, June 15. AA photo
Hundreds of thousands of Turkish government supporters gathered in Istanbul today, for the second "Respect for the National Will" rally, following yesterday's meeting in Ankara, hours after police stormed a city park to clear it.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has begun his speech by saluting the crowd.
“Those who wonder about what’s going on in Turkey should better look at Kazlıçeşme, at Istanbul,” Erdoğan told his supporters.
“These hundreds of thousands of people are not the ones who have burned and destroyed; these hundreds of thousands of people are not traitors like those who throw Molotov cocktails at my people. Whatever we do, we’ll remain within the frame of democracy and the rule of law. We have never pushed the limits of legality,” he said.
Erdoğan also once again slammed the international media. “If the international media want a picture of Turkey, the picture is here,” he said. “CNN, Reuters, BBC, hide this picture too, and go on with your lies.”
"Now, Gezi Parkı has been cleared and handed back to its people. The municipality has cleared the park and renewed it with new flowers. Real environmatalists are at work now. Who is this environmentalist? The AK Party government," he said.
"I warn once again. They are making calls to unite at Taksim. I call for commonsense. My people: do not fall into this trap," he added.
“Turkey is not a country on which international media institutions can conduct operations. Without feeling ashamed they say get ready for the Turkish Spring after the Arab Spring. They do not know that the Turkish Spring occurred on November 3, 2002,” the prime minister added.
Riot police used tear gas and water cannon late Saturday to reclaim Gezi Park from demonstrators occupying what had become the symbolic heart of nationwide anti-government protests.
The officers moved in just two hours after Erdoğan issued an ultimatum to the protesters telling them to quit the park.
"Let me put it clearly: empty Taksim. If it is not evacuated, this country's security forces know how to evacuate there," he told cheering loyalists.
"Nobody can intimidate us," he added. "We don't take orders or instructions from anybody except from God." As police moved in, thousands of startled campers scrambled to escape the clouds of acrid smoke, clearing the site within minutes and leaving only empty tents behind.
Police sealed off access to the square with yellow tape to prevent protesters from coming back for a fresh demonstration today.
A city cleaning crew and bulldozers were still clearing the square and the park.
The Taksim Solidarity group, seen as most representative of the protesters, condemned what it described as a "brutal attack". "The police raid left hundreds of protesters injured and there are dozens more who were hit by rubber bullets," it said in a statement.
Istanbul governor Huseyin Avni Mutlu said 44 people had been injured in Saturday's unrest, none seriously.
While many Gezi Park demonstrators sought refuge in nearby five-star hotels, pockets of protesters continued to battle with police into the night.
Thousands also took to the streets in the capital Ankara and the western city of Izmir yesterday, but there were no reports of clashes.
Turkey's recent trouble first began when a peaceful sit-in to save Gezi Park's 600 trees from being razed in a redevelopment plan prompted a brutal police response on May 31.
The violence sparked an outpouring of anger, snowballing into countrywide demonstrations against Erdoğan, who critics say is increasingly authoritarian.
The unrest, which has so far claimed four lives, represents the biggest challenge yet to the decade-long rule of Erdoğan's Islamic-rooted government.
'Nightmare needs to end'
Mey Elbi, a 39-year-old yoga teacher, was in Gezi park when police entered.
"They took our goggles and gas masks," she told AFP.
"I won't give up," she vowed. "We're angry, this is not over. The world has seen that together, we can stand up to Tayyip." After days of taking a combative stance against the demonstrators, dismissing them as "looters" and "extremists", Erdoğan had made an unexpected conciliatory gesture in late-night talks with protesters Friday.
He agreed to abide by a court-ordered suspension of Gezi Park's redevelopment and said that if the court deemed the project legal, he would hold a referendum on plans to rebuild Ottoman-era military barracks on the site.
But the Taksim Solidarity group on Saturday rejected the proposals, vowing to continue their resistance.
It said the government had failed to address their demands, which include a call for arrested demonstrators to be released and for police chiefs in cities that saw clashes to be sacked.
Erdoğan felt "cheated" after protesters rejected his olive branch, AKP deputy Hüseyin Çelik said.
"The government could not have let this occupation go on forever," he said in a televised interview. "This nightmare needs to end." The United States and other Western allies have widely criticised Erdoğan's handling of the crisis in recent weeks, undermining Turkey's image as a model of Islamic democracy.
Opponents have accused the premier of repressing critics and of forcing conservative Islamic policies on the mainly Muslim but staunchly secular nation -- including religious education reforms and restrictions on alcohol sales.
While opposition to him is intense, the 59-year-old, who has been in power since 2002, remains the country's most popular politician.
His AKP has won three elections in a row and took nearly half the vote in 2011, having presided over strong economic growth in the country of 76 million people.