The most recent protests were sparked March 11 by the death of 15-year-old Berkin Elvan, who had been in coma since June 16 last year when he was hit by a gas canister during a police crackdown on protest actions as he was running a family errand to buy bread.
The protests, in which many participants have been waving loaves of bread, take place against the background of a government corruption scandal and economic downturn.
“The biggest demonstrations were on the day of Berkin’s funeral,” said Samil Altan, of the People’s Democratic Party, on the phone from Istanbul March 17. “We were thousands. The police used tear gas and water cannons. The prime minister attacked us and cursed us.”
According to Hürriyet Daily News, some 2 million people in 53 provinces across the country took to the streets after Elvan’s death. Cops intervened in 13 provinces, leading to clashes in which at least 52 civilians were injured and more than 400 arrested.
Cops attacked a vigil for Elvan outside the hospital, employing tear gas, despite being very close to the hospital entrance. “It is not Allah who has taken my son away. It is Tayyip Erdogan,” Berkin’s mother Gülsüm Elvan said at the vigil, Hürriyet reported.
During the March 12 funeral, some markets stopped selling bread. Members of DISK, a union that organizes metal, textile and service workers, walked off the job to join the procession.
“These are fakers, fakers,” Erdogan said about the protesters at an opening ceremony for a subway line in Ankara March 13. He neither commented on Elvan’s death nor sent condolences to the family. “First they tried with Gezi; they could not succeed,” he said in a televised speech while campaigning prior to the March 30 local elections. “Then they started the Dec. 17 coup attempt and could not succeed. Now they try to reach results by provoking, terrorizing the streets.”
The protest wave last summer started in Istanbul May 31 when police attacked young people occupying Taksim Gezi Park who opposed a government plan to replace it with a shopping mall. The protests soon became mass demonstrations against the Erdogan government, involving more than 2 million people demanding greater democratic and political rights, including for religious and national minorities, women and unions.
Government forces responded with water cannons, tear gas, plastic bullets and assaults, killing nine. More than 8,000 were injured, 104 sustained serious head injuries and 11 lost an eye, mostly from plastic bullets. Erdogan defended the crackdown, slandering the protests as the work of domestic provocateurs and their foreign collaborators.
Erdogan’s condemnation of “the Dec. 17 coup” refers to arrests of more than 50 charged with corruption, apparently driven by bourgeois opposition to the Erdogan government. Among them were politicians with Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), pro-AKP capitalists and sons of three cabinet ministers.
Ministers of the economy, interior and urban development resigned Dec. 25 after the arrest of their sons, who allegedly accepted bribes for awarding government building permits and public contracts. The next day Erdogan replaced seven other ministers.
Also arrested was head of the state-owned Halkbank, who was accused of setting up deals with Iran in violation of U.S.-led international sanctions. An order was put out to arrest Erdogan’s son Bilal on suspicion of paying out bribes, but police refused to do so.
As premier since 2003, Erdogan has led the privatization of large government-owned companies, including in the oil and gas industry, seaports and airports. During his years as prime minister the Turkish economy has grown by up to 9 percent annually. But this “success” rode on a wave of rising debt. Turkey’s trade deficit grew from $16 billion in 2003 to $84 billion in 2012. In the first three weeks of unrest last summer, speculators sold off Turkish stocks and bonds worth more than $1.6 billion.
“There is polarization in the country and a political crisis going into the March 30 elections,” Altan said. “The demonstrations have stopped for now, but the situation is tense.”
Front page (for this issue) | Home | Text-version home