ISTANBUL — As protests continued for a fourth day in major Turkish cities on Monday, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the demonstrations were the work of extremists led by political opponents trying to overthrow his government. But the president of the country, Abdullah Gul, called for calm from all sides and said that protests and demonstrations were a natural part of democracy.
Protesters gathered again in Istanbul and other cities Monday evening, after security forces used tear gas and water cannons overnight on crowds of mostly youthful demonstrators in Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir who were calling for an end to Mr. Erdogan’s more than 10 years in power.
For the first time, a death was reported at one of the demonstrations: one protester died in Ankara after a vehicle slammed into a crowd there late Sunday night, The Associated Press reported, citing a medical official.
Mr. Erdogan accused the main opposition party of using the demonstrations, which flared into a widespread confrontation with security forces on Friday, for political gain.
“If we set aside those that joined upon their innocent motives and information they got from the media, there are also ones that attended an event organized by extremists,” Mr. Erdogan said in a televised speech. He suggested the possibility of foreign provocation, although he did specify its origin.
“Our intelligence agency has their own investigation on that — there is no need to disclose them as this or that,” he said.
Speaking at a news conference before departing for Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia on an official visit, Mr. Erdogan also dismissed concerns that recent actions by the government, like newly tightened regulations on the sale and use of alcohol, were attacks on the lifestyles of secular Turks.
Opponents called Mr. Erdogan’s decision to go ahead with the overseas trip irresponsible.
President Gul spoke on Monday in Izmir, where thousands of demonstrators battled the police overnight. He underlined the importance of democratic opposition in political life.
While Mr. Erdogan referred to his electoral victories and his parliamentary majority as a license to carry out policies as he saw fit, Mr. Gul stressed that true democracy “does not only mean elections.”
“There is nothing more natural than various ways of expression other than elections if there are different views, different situations, objections,” he said. Peaceful protests are surely a part of that.”
Source: NY Times