ISTANBUL: Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Friday his Islamic-rooted government opposed violence and was open to “democratic demands” raised by demonstrators whose mass protests have rocked the country.
“What we are against is terrorism, violence, vandalism and actions that threaten others for the sake of freedoms,” Erdogan said in a televised conference in Istanbul. “I’m open-hearted to anyone with democratic demands.”
Appealing to activists campaigning to save an Istanbul park, a campaign that sparked the nationwide unrest, he urged those with environmental concerns to join him.
“I know what environmentalism means,” the former Istanbul mayor said. “Being an environmentalist is not vandalism. Being an environmentalist is not killing people.”
Doctors say thousands of people have been injured as police have fired tear-gas and water cannon at stone-throwing protesters across the country.
European Union Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule told Erdogan at the same Istanbul conference that excessive police force against demonstrators “has no place” in a democracy.
Many of Turkey’s Western allies have condemned his government’s handling of the demonstrations, but the defiant premier hit back at his critics.
“Similar protests have taken place in Britain, France, Germany and bigger ones in Greece. All of them are members of the European Union,” he said, likening Turkey’s demonstrations to the Occupy Wall Street movement that sprang up in the United States in 2011.
The trouble in Turkey broke out a week ago when police violently dispersed demonstrators opposed to the redevelopment of Istanbul Gezi Park.
It then spread across the country, with riot cops firing tear gas and water cannon at thousands of protesters calling for Erdogan’s resignation.
The protests are the fiercest challenge yet to Erdogan’s decade-long rule.