ISTANBUL (AP) — Tens of thousands of people thronged Istanbul’s Taksim Square yesterday, and thousands more turned out in central Ankara as protests that have presented Turkey’s prime minister with the first serious challenge to his leadership entered their second week.
Hours earlier, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s governing party dismissed the protests, which have spread across the country, as an opposition attempt to topple the government, and rejected calls for early elections.
The protests, sparked by outrage over a violent police action to oust an environmental protest in Taksim Square on May 31, quickly spread to 78 cities across the country. Three people have died — two protesters and a policeman — and thousands have been injured so far.
The protests have become a general condemnation of Erdogan, whom many consider to have grown authoritarian in his 10 years in power, and accuse of trying to introduce his religious and conservative mores in a country governed by secular laws.
He convened the leadership of his Justice and Development party to discuss the protests Saturday afternoon.
Speaking after the meeting, party spokesman Huseyin Celik said rumors that the 2015 general elections would be moved forward were “totally baseless, totally unnecessary, made-up and imaginary,”
Celik also accused the main opposition party of trying to topple Erdogan through illegitimate means, “having failed seven times to beat (the Justice party) in the ballot boxes.”
The head of Turkey’s nationalist party, Devlet Bahceli, had called for early elections for Erdogan to reaffirm his mandate.
“The prime minister’s stance and the tumult have deepened the crisis,” Bahceli told reporters. “The prime minister’s time is up, we believe he has to renew his mandate.”
The protests have attracted a broad array of people angered by what they say are Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian ways and his intervention in private lives. They point to attempts to curtail the selling and promotion of alcohol, his comments on how women should dress and statements that each woman should have at least three children.
A devout Muslim who says he is committed to upholding Turkey’s secular tradition, Erdogan vehemently rejects charges of autocracy and points out that he enjoyed 50 percent support in the last elections in 2011.