Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan calls for calm after weekend of fierce protests

Riot police clashed with protesters in the Turkish city of Istanbul early Monday as the fiercest anti-government demonstrations seen in Turkey in years continued for a fourth day. Tens of thousands of people turned out in Turkey’s major cities over the weekend, in protests that began in the Istanbul district of Taksim over a government ...

AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images

Riot police clashed with protesters in the Turkish city of Istanbul early Monday as the fiercest anti-government demonstrations seen in Turkey in years continued for a fourth day. Tens of thousands of people turned out in Turkey's major cities over the weekend, in protests that began in the Istanbul district of Taksim over a government plan to build a shopping center over Gezi Park. They quickly broadened into anti-government demonstrations, with mostly young and secular Turks challenging the Islamist backed Justice and Development Party (AKP), which they have accused of authoritarianism and running a government that ignores the concerns of secular citizens. Two people have been reported killed and hundreds of people have been injured in clashes, as well as nearly 1,000 arrested, many of whom have been released. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the demonstrations were organized by extremists and called protesters "looters" and "bums" and vowed to continue with plans to demolish the park. He said the demonstrations were ideological and provoked by the main opposition bloc, the Republican People's Party, aimed at making the AKP lose votes in local and presidential elections next year. The United States and European Union have criticized the government's reaction to the protests. As the Turkish Lira and stocks fell Monday, Erdogan called for calm, saying "all this will be overcome."

Syria

Syrian rebel forces clashed with Hezbollah fighters in Lebanon's eastern town of Baalbek, in the Bekaa Valley Sunday killing an estimated 12 opposition fighters and one Hezbollah militant in the most recent incident of Syria-related violence on Lebanese territory. The fighting reportedly began when Hezbollah fighters worked to stop a group of Syrian rebels from setting up "rocket launchers" aimed at Shiite areas of the Bekaa Valley. Attacks on Shiite areas of Lebanon have risen in recent weeks killing at least three people and Hezbollah forces have been fighting alongside the Syrian army. Meanwhile, fierce fighting has continued in the Syrian town of Qusayr, near the Lebanese border. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it was "alarmed" by reports of civilians trapped in the besieged town and called for immediate access to deliver humanitarian aid. However, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said the Syrian government would not allow access until "immediately after the end of military operations." On Saturday, Russia blocked a U.N. Security Council declaration that would have criticized the government's offensive on Qusayr and called for all parties "to do their utmost to avoid civilian casualties." Russia and the Syrian regime criticized the Security Council for falling to express concern when rebel forces overtook the town.

Riot police clashed with protesters in the Turkish city of Istanbul early Monday as the fiercest anti-government demonstrations seen in Turkey in years continued for a fourth day. Tens of thousands of people turned out in Turkey’s major cities over the weekend, in protests that began in the Istanbul district of Taksim over a government plan to build a shopping center over Gezi Park. They quickly broadened into anti-government demonstrations, with mostly young and secular Turks challenging the Islamist backed Justice and Development Party (AKP), which they have accused of authoritarianism and running a government that ignores the concerns of secular citizens. Two people have been reported killed and hundreds of people have been injured in clashes, as well as nearly 1,000 arrested, many of whom have been released. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the demonstrations were organized by extremists and called protesters "looters" and "bums" and vowed to continue with plans to demolish the park. He said the demonstrations were ideological and provoked by the main opposition bloc, the Republican People’s Party, aimed at making the AKP lose votes in local and presidential elections next year. The United States and European Union have criticized the government’s reaction to the protests. As the Turkish Lira and stocks fell Monday, Erdogan called for calm, saying "all this will be overcome."

Syria

Syrian rebel forces clashed with Hezbollah fighters in Lebanon’s eastern town of Baalbek, in the Bekaa Valley Sunday killing an estimated 12 opposition fighters and one Hezbollah militant in the most recent incident of Syria-related violence on Lebanese territory. The fighting reportedly began when Hezbollah fighters worked to stop a group of Syrian rebels from setting up "rocket launchers" aimed at Shiite areas of the Bekaa Valley. Attacks on Shiite areas of Lebanon have risen in recent weeks killing at least three people and Hezbollah forces have been fighting alongside the Syrian army. Meanwhile, fierce fighting has continued in the Syrian town of Qusayr, near the Lebanese border. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it was "alarmed" by reports of civilians trapped in the besieged town and called for immediate access to deliver humanitarian aid. However, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said the Syrian government would not allow access until "immediately after the end of military operations." On Saturday, Russia blocked a U.N. Security Council declaration that would have criticized the government’s offensive on Qusayr and called for all parties "to do their utmost to avoid civilian casualties." Russia and the Syrian regime criticized the Security Council for falling to express concern when rebel forces overtook the town.

Headlines

  • Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has replaced former Prime Minister Salam Fayyad with Rami Hamdallah, head of al-Najah University in Nablus and the electoral commission.
  • Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court has ruled the upper house of the parliament and the constituent assembly were elected illegally, but the Shura Council will not immediately be dissolved.
  • A helicopter carrying Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and other officials made an emergency landing in the mountainous region north of Tehran Sunday, but no one was reported harmed.

Arguments and Analysis

Protests in Turkey (The New York Times)

"Three days of violent protests in Istanbul and other cities in Turkey over the weekend are posing the most serious challenge yet to the decade-long rule of the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Instead of addressing the legitimate concerns that propelled tens of thousands of people to take to the streets, Mr. Erdogan’s inclination is to respond to grievances with disproportionate force.

In defiant comments over the weekend, Mr. Erdogan denounced the protesters as "extremists" and "looters," and he warned that if his critics could bring 100,000 people into the streets, he could counter with a million of his own supporters. He decried Twitter and social media as "a menace," and he accused Turkey’s secular opposition of fomenting the protests.

…Mr. Erdogan has spoken often of his commitment to developing Turkey as a model democracy and a regional economic and political power. He and his Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party deserve credit for managing economic growth; curbing the power of the military; promoting tolerance of groups that were once marginalized, like the Kurds; and seeking to end the war with militant Kurdish separatists. But his growing intolerance for dissent, intimidation of the Turkish media (which initially provided little coverage of the protests), and plans to alter the Constitution to strengthen the presidency so he can run for that office in 2014 and extend his time in power are deeply troubling.

Mr. Erdogan, who has a reputation for arrogance, should heed other members of his party, including President Abdullah Gul as well as a deputy prime minister and the mayor of Istanbul, who belatedly have promised to listen to citizen concerns."

House of Saud: built on sand (The Guardian)

"It is difficult to overstate the turmoil sweeping today through the Middle East. The historic Muslim Sunni and Shia faultline, blithely reopened by the US invasion of Iraq, runs today from the Mediterranean to the Arabian Sea. Half a dozen conflicts rage in this area. No state nor border is immune from violent change. And yet, Saudi Arabia which bestrides the path of this faultline, appears an oasis of calm. Peace reigning in the House of Saud may well be illusory.

The kingdom has taken out insurance polices. Saudi Arabia has set a record state budget – $219bn to spend on welfare and infrast
ructure – twice the size of the original bailout offered to Greece. King Abdullah, who will be 90 this year, has just appointed his son, Prince Miteb, as head of a newly created National Guard ministry, one of a series of measures designed to pave the path of the succession. But the Saudi gerontocracy would be foolish to think the worst has been averted.

The warning signs are there for all to see. When two prominent human rights activists were given sentences in March which were harsh even by the kingdom’s draconian standards – 10 years for charges which included sedition and giving inaccurate information to the media – the regime was denounced by the most popular cleric in the country. Salman al-Odah’s "open letter" broke all taboos as his calls for reform were squarely directed at the royal family itself. "There is smoke and dust on the horizon. We are justified in worrying about what lies beyond. If the security agencies tighten their grip, it will only worsen the quagmire we are in and cut off all hope of reform," the cleric wrote. Odah’s words, and such a public act of defiance, electrified the social media in the country, spreading far beyond his own 2.8m Twitter followers."

–By Jennifer T. Parker and Mary Casey

<p>Mary Casey-Baker is the editor of Foreign Policy’s Middle East Daily Brief, as well as the assistant director of public affairs at the Project on Middle East Political Science and assistant editor of The Monkey Cage blog for the Washington Post. </p> Twitter: @casey_mary

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