The New York Times: Turkish Official Apologizes for Force Used at Start of Riots- Sebnem Arsu

Turkey’s deputy prime minister apologized on Tuesday for the “excessive violence” used by the police last week against demonstrators opposing the razing of an Istanbul park, the start of what later became nationwide protests against the pro-Islamic government.

The deputy, Bulent Arinc, speaking at a news conference broadcast live from Ankara, appeared to be trying to ease mounting criticism after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday referred to the thousands who have been protesting in 67 cities for at least five days as extremists led by the main opposition party.

“It is wrong, unjust that excessive violence was used against those that acted upon their environmental sensitivities in the initial event,” said Mr. Arinc, referring to the protest in Taksim Square on Friday, which ignited the widespread riots. “I apologize to those citizens.”

In Geneva, the United Nations human rights office expressed concern over the use of excessive force and called for an investigation into possible violations of international human rights standards.

The investigations should be “prompt, thorough, independent and impartial, and perpetrators should be brought to justice,” a spokesman for Navi Pillay, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, told journalists in Geneva on Tuesday, urging adherence to human rights safeguards in arrests and detentions of demonstrators.

Plans to remove Gezi Park, the last significant green space in the center of Istanbul, and replace it with a shopping mall had energized protesters. Mr. Erdogan’s government has proceeded with disputed urban development plans with little public input during his more than 10 years in office.

Mr. Arinc spoke after Mr. Erdogan left for an official tour to North Africa on Monday, which critics saw as irresponsible considering that two people have been killed, more than 300 injured and at least 1,750 detained in the clashes.

Early on Tuesday, main streets in Ankara, Istanbul, Adana, Hatay and Izmir were quiet after fierce overnight riots.

Around midnight, leading up to Taksim Square from Istanbul’s neighborhood of Besiktas, groups of young people stood guard next to barricades they had built and fortified with construction materials, bricks and wooden panels as police forces remained on standby in the distance.

Several of the thousands who were occupying Gezi Park said they had no intention of leaving. “The apology that we have been waiting for a long time came far too late,” said one protester, Ozge Cesur, 26, as her friends nodded in agreement. “We will stay here until Erdogan himself comes up and takes us seriously in making decisions.”

In another corner of the park, where people danced, charged their phones on mobile generators and enjoyed free drinks and food as they chanted slogans against the government, a group of young engineers relaxed on a bench.

“Why did they need things to turn violent before they listened to us?” asked one, Burcu Baran, 30.

Responding to Mr. Arinc’s apology, another protester, Aykut Turem, 34, said, “I didn’t hear anything different than what Erdogan earlier said but in a milder tone.

“People in remote neighborhoods who have no idea what’s going on here still think we are only a few crazy environmentalists.”

Two leading labor unions that represent around 240,000 workers agreed to stage a two-day strike starting on Wednesday to support protests against the government and what critics say are its increasingly autocratic tendencies.

Protesters have pointed to recent regulations to control the use and sale of alcohol, plans by Mr. Erdogan to have mosques built in locations around Istanbul without consultation, and his strong suggestion that families have at least three children.

After mainstream news channels blacked out the riots, running beauty contests or documentaries on penguins instead of the live pictures of injured protesters shown online, protesters strongly criticized the government’s control over the media. Mr. Arinc said the information supplied by social networks, especially Twitter, was unreliable and criticized the foreign media for misrepresenting events.

However, Cem Aydin, the executive editor of the Dogus Media Group, which owns NTV, one of Turkey’s most prominent news networks, apologized to the station’s reporters and audience for ignoring the protests.

“Criticisms are fair to a large extent,” Mr. Aydin told his staffers at the channel’s headquarters in Istanbul, according to a report on its Web site. “I do not say this for any reason but speaking my conscience.”

Although Mr. Erdogan has repeatedly said the riots were meant to destroy the growth and stability that his government has built in Turkey over a decade, Mr. Arinc acknowledged that the government could draw “lessons” from the recent events, and blamed the excessive use of tear gas in provoking nationwide reactions.

“There are many paths that we walk correctly, which we will continue walking on,” he said, “but we do not have the luxury or room for making the mistake of dismissing and turning deaf ears on anyone.”

“Democracy cannot exist without opposition,” Mr. Arinc said.

On Monday, the fourth day of protests, Mr. Erdogan said the demonstrations were the work of “bums” and extremists led by political opponents trying to overthrow his government. He also suggested the possibility of foreign provocation, although he did not specify its origin.

On Wednesday, Mr. Arinc said the police had information on 11 groups involved in organizing and provoking riots, but refused to give names.

Ceylan Yeginsu contributed reporting from Istanbul, and Nick Cumming-Bruce from Geneva.

04 June 2013