Turkey protests continue as tourism woes grow


Thousands of angry Turks have taken to the streets to join mass anti-government protests which have stretched to over one week, defying Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s call to end the worst civil unrest of his decade-long rule.
Protesters began arriving in Istanbul’s Taksim Square From early Saturday morning with food and blankets to settle in for a weekend of demonstrations, adding to the growing tent city in nearby Gezi Park.
The lingering rallies, heaviest in Turkey’s main tourist hubs such as Istanbul’s main Taksim Square, are starting to negatively impact business for many.
Fresh demonstrations were also planned in the capital Ankara – where Erdogan is expected to be on Sunday – as the crisis entered its ninth day.
“A week ago, I could never imagine myself sleeping out on the streets of Istanbul,” said 22-year-old Aleyna, wrapped up under a blanket with a stray kitten, pointing to her dirty clothes. “Now I don’t know how I can ever go back.” Erdogan, on Saturday, was meeting in Istanbul with top officials of his Justice and Development Party (AKP) to discuss the crisis, and a deputy prime minister was due to make a speech later on Saturday.
He renewed a call for an immediate end to the protests a day earlier, saying his government was open to “democratic demands”, insisting that the protests were “bordering on vandalism.”
‘Democratic demands’: The political turmoil erupted after police cracked down heavily on a small campaign to save Gezi Park from demolition, spiralling into nationwide protests against Erdogan and the AKP, seen as increasingly authoritarian.
Police have used tear gas and water cannon to disperse demonstrators in clashes that have injured thousands of people and left three dead, tarnishing Turkey’s image as a model of Islamic democracy.
Faced with international criticism, Erdogan on Friday accused Western allies of double standards after EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule urged a “swift and transparent” probe into police abuses in Turkey, a longtime EU hopeful.
Erdogan issued a sharp retort, saying those involved in a similar protest would “face a harsher response” in any European country.
The premier, who has dismissed the demonstrators as “looters” manipulated by extremists, added in a more conciliatory tone: “I’m open-hearted to anyone with democratic demands.”
But demonstrators dug in their heels overnight, with thousands massing peacefully in a festive Taksim Square, while in other Turkish cities they took to the streets, banging pots and pans as they marched in protest.
Taksim has been free of a police presence since officers relinquished the square to protesters last Saturday after the government acknowledged it was the police’s heavy-handed response that lit the flame of the unrest.
In a quiet night nationwide, one only Istanbul suburb saw fresh clashes, with police using tear gas and water cannon on protesters who reportedly threw fireworks and homemade bombs at them.