Sunday, March 9, 2014
ISTANBUL - Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan staged a huge political rally Sunday to demonstrate that his popular strength will survive Turkey's political crisis.
The rally came even as clashes spread to new parts of Istanbul between police firing tear gas and water cannons and youthful protesters throwing stones and erecting barricades.
The confrontation had begun to recede last week after talks between the government and protesters. The dissidents were occupying a small downtown park scheduled for destruction before Erdogan's decision to clear the park by force Saturday evening. New violent protests broke out throughout the weekend.
Speaking before hundreds of thousands of people bused to an Istanbul site by his Justice and Development party, Erdogan vigorously defended that decision to clear Istanbul's Taksim Square and Gezi Park as his "duty," and he linked the protesters to two terrorist incidents.
Erdogan took two more small steps backward in the crisis, which his own government prompted by ordering the destruction of one of the few patches of green in Istanbul's commercial district to put up a shopping mall.
In what has become an ever-shrinking project, he promised Sunday that 500 of the 600 trees at Gezi park would remain, and that the city would build a cultural center instead of a shopping emporium.
The prime minister also lashed out at western news organizations for allegedly overstating the dimensions of the crisis and at the European Parliament for criticizing the crackdown. Addressing the British Broadcasting Corporation, the U.S. CNN network and the Reuters news agency, he said: "You have been fabricating lies for days and misrepresenting Turkey."
As for the European Parliament, he said: "We don't recognize you. Who are you to give your judgment on our decision? What did you do in the cases of Greece, England, Germany and France?" several of which have had violent unrest in the past year.
His ire at the parliament carried an undertone of bitterness that almost entirely Muslim Turkey still hasn't been admitted tp the European Union, a half century after applying.