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Turkish PM maintains hard stance as protests enter fourth day

The hackivist group Anonymous took down several Turkish government websites last night, condemning the “censorship of social media and other communication” methods.

Protesters demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Erdogan meet police (Image: Voice of Turkey via Twitter)

TURKISH PRIME MINISTER Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday again dismissed street protests against his rule as actions organised by “extremists”, described them as a temporary blip and angrily rejected comparisons with the Arab Spring uprisings.

Appearing defensive and angry on the fourth day of disturbances, he lashed out at reporters who asked whether the government had understood “the message” by protesters airing grievances or whether he would soften his tone.

“What is the message? I want to hear it from you,” Erdogan retorted.

“What can a softened tone be like? Can you tell me?” he said. He spoke to reporters before leaving on what was planned to be a four-day trip to Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia.

Anger over excessive police force, extent of government control

Turkey has been hit my demonstrations since Friday that grew out of anger over excessive police force against protesters holding a sit-in to prevent the uprooting of trees at Istanbul’s main Taksim Square. The demonstrations have since spiralled into Turkey’s biggest anti-government disturbances in years, challenging Erdogan’s power.

The demonstrators, mostly secular-minded Turks, took to the street airing frustrations at Erdogan’s abrasive and non-compromising style as well as the heavy-handed police response to protests. Some of the protesters clashed with police, but most of the protesters demonstrated peacefully. Erdogan has called the protesters “a bunch of looters.”

Turkish youths, holding flags, shout slogan ” Tayyip, resign! ” as they clash with security forces in Ankara, Turkey, Saturday, June 1, 2013. (PA)

Police fire tear gas, use violence against protesters

Violence flared in Istanbul early on Monday between a group of demonstrators and police on the fourth day. The Dogan news agency said police fired tear gas at the group in an area close to Erdogan’s Istanbul office. The protesters responded by hurling stones.

The agency said as many as 500 people were detained overnight Monday after police broke up protests by several thousands of people in the capital Ankara. Turkey’s Fox television reported 300 others detained in a similar crackdown in Izmir, Turkey’s third-largest city.

Erdogan described some of the protesters as “naïve, decent and participating (in demonstrations) by following information on social media” but claimed the protests were being organised by Turkey’s opposition party and extremist groups.

An injured man is being helped as Turkish protesters clash with riot police near the former Ottoman palace, Dolmabahce, where Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan maintains an office in Istanbul. (AP/Press Association Images)

Unrest hits stock market

Turkey’s main stock exchange has dropped by 6.43 percent on opening on Monday, as investors worried about the destabilising effect of the demonstrations on the economy.

Erdogan played down its significance, saying: “It’s the stock market, it goes down and it goes up. It can’t always be stable.”

He rejected any comparison to the Arab Spring uprisings.

“We already have a spring in Turkey,” alluding to the nation’s free elections. “But there are those who want to turn this spring into winter.

“Be calm, these will all pass,” he said.

A police officer fires toward Turkish protesters who clash with riot police near the former Ottoman palace, Dolmabahce. (AP/PA)

Iraq raises concerns over use of violence

In Iraq meanwhile, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said in comments posted on his official website that his government was worried about the security implications of the situation in Turkey, saying the country was “an essential part of the stability of the region.”

“We believe that resorting to violence will widen the circle (of violence) … in the region, and we call for restraint,” he said.

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Iraq and Turkey share a long, mountainous border. Iraq is home to an ethnic Turkomen minority, centered around the disputed Iraqi city of Kirkuk, whose well-being has long been a concern for Ankara.

The two countries’ relationship is increasingly strained over growing Turkish ties to Iraq’s largely autonomous northern Kurdish region, and over Turkey’s support for the Sunni rebels fighting to topple the Syrian regime. The Syrian civil war is exacerbating sectarian divisions within Iraq, and Baghdad has warned that the fall of the Iranian-backed Syrian government could ignite a wider conflict in the region.

A Turkish protester reacts next to a placard that reads ” justice died in 1938″ in reference to year modern Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk died, Istanbul. (AP/PA)

Anonymous hacks government websites

More than 1,700 people have so far been arrested in 235 protests taking place country-wide.

The hackivist group Anonymous took down several government websites last night, including the sites of the Turkish President and the ruling Justice and Development Party, declaring operation “#OpTurkey” in support of anti-government protesters. The group condemned the censorship of social media and other communication methods of the Turkish people “in order to suppress the knowledge of [the government's] crimes against them”.

In an interview with Haberturk on Sunday evening, Erdogan said  attacked social media: ”There is now a menace which is called Twitter. The best examples of lies can be found there. To me, social media is the worst menace to society,” he said.

Meanwhile, Hurriyet Daily News is reporting that Turkish intelligence is looking into possible links between the protests in Taskin Square and “foreign powers”.

“Our intelligence work is ongoing [to determine the foreign actors behind the protests]. It is not possible to reveal their names. But we will have meetings with their heads,” said Erdogan. He added: “Those who advise us to be moderate must themselves first come to moderation.”

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Additional reporting by the AP

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