ISTANBUL, Turkey (CNN) — Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan slammed protesters Sunday, the tenth day of demonstrations against his government, warning that “even patience has an end.”
He gave a series of speeches to supporters in the nation’s capital, Ankara, as well as in the southern city of Adana.
“We have been patient. We will be patient, but even patience has an end! And look, the people who are hiding behind the demonstrators, and seeking to do politics from it, must first learn what politics is! We are not the ones who fall for the provocations on the streets. But they are,” he said.
Demonstrators have demanded Erdogan’s resignation, accusing his government of creeping authoritarianism. The protests have united disparate groups dissatisfied with Erdogan and angry over what protesters and international critics have described as a heavy-handed response by security forces.
The result has been the biggest challenge to Erdogan and his governing Justice and Development Party during their decade in power.
The prime minister remained defiant.
He criticized protesters’ tactics and challenged them to beat him at the ballot box.
“All they do is destroy. They attacked public buildings; they burned public buildings. They burned the cars of civilians,” he said.
“Let’s face off at the ballot box in seven months. If you are saying democracy and freedom, if you are saying rights and freedoms, you cannot achieve that with violence. Only within the laws, you can achieve it.”
Since the demonstrations started May 31, two protesters have been killed. One was hit by a car in Istanbul; the other was shot in the head by unknown assailants in Antakya, near the border with Syria.
A police captain died after falling from a bridge last week, the Adana governor’s office told CNN.
More than 4,300 people have been wounded in clashes over the past week, the Turkish Medical Association has said.
Protests continued Sunday, as riot police fired tear gas and blasted water at demonstrators in central Ankara, images from the DHA news agency showed.
“We could tell the police were getting ready to intervene, then they did. First, they used tear gas and sound bombs. Then, the water cannons and the armored vehicles came,” said Mehmet Ferit Aka, a protester.
“We tried to gather again, but every time we try, they intervene very roughly.”
The demonstrations in Turkey started as a small sit-in over plans to bulldoze Gezi Park — the last green space in central Istanbul — and replace it with a shopping mall housed inside a replica of a 19th-century Ottoman barracks.
After riot police moved in to break up the protest with tear gas and pepper spray, demonstrators set up barricades and hurled bottles at police.
Analysts say the protests have provided a channel for Turks alienated from and frustrated by Erdogan’s government. Opposition parties are weak and divided, observers say, and have failed to convincingly challenge the governing party during its decade in power.
But they also point to widespread popular support for Erdogan. Under his government, the Turkish economy has grown and his party has been rewarded with comfortable victories at the ballot box.
10 June 2013