Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday rejected talk of a “Turkish Spring,” facing down the worst protests in his decade-long rule as fresh clashes erupted between police and demonstrators in Ankara, AFP reported.
Erdogan defied protesters who accuse him of seeking to impose conservative Islamic reforms on secular Turkey, stressing that he was democratically elected.
“Was there a multi-party system in the Arab Spring countries?” he said in televised comments.
AFP photographers in Ankara later saw police fire tear gas and use water cannon to disperse stone-throwing demonstrators on the fourth day of violent protests that have swept scores of Turkish cities.
Rights groups say hundreds have been wounded in clashes nationwide that have pitted stone-throwing protesters against riot police firing tear gas and water cannons since Friday.
Erdogan’s ally President Abdullah Gul on Monday urged calm and promised protesters that their voice had been heard.
“The messages delivered with good intentions have been received,” he was quoted as saying quoted by the Anatolia news agency.
Erdogan struck a harder tone, vowing: “We will stand firm” against the protests and promising his supporters: “We’ll overcome this.”
Protester killed by car
Meanwile, a young demonstrator was killed in Istanbul by a car that rammed into a crowd during a wave of protests against Turkey’s government, a medics’ union said on Monday.
The car killed Mehmet Ayvalitas, a member of a left-wing association, when it ploughed into demonstrators occupying a highway on Sunday, the third day of clashes between protestors and police, the Union of Turkish Doctors said in a statement.
Protests shake Turkey
Tens of thousands of people took to the streets in Turkey’s biggest cities over the weekend and clashed with riot police firing tear gas, leaving hundreds of people injured.
“This is a protest organized by extremist elements,” Erdogan said.
“The fact the AK Party has increased its votes at three elections in a row and has successfully won two referendums, shows how the people of this nation have embraced the AK Party.”
Protesters on Sunday branded Erdogan a “dictator” and called for his resignation.
“Dictator, resign!... We will resist until we win,” yelled the crowds, in the latest of a string of protests that have by some accounts left hundreds injured.
The prime minister on Sunday rejected the claims that he is a “dictator,” dismissing protesters as an extremist fringe.
“If you love this country, if you love Istanbul, do not fall for these games,” he said in televised comments.
“They call me a dictator,” Erdogan said in a speech on Sunday. “If they liken a humble servant to a dictator, then I am at a loss for words.”
With Turkish media otherwise giving scant reports about the protests, many turned to social media outlets for information on the unrest.
“There is now a menace which is called Twitter,” Erdogan said. “The best examples of lies can be found there. To me, social media is the worst menace to society.”
Under Erdogan’s leadership, Turkey has boosted economic growth and raised its international profile. But he has been a divisive figure at home, with his government recently passing legislation curbing the sale of alcohol and taking a strong stand against the Syrian regime that some believe has put security at risk.
Police fired tear gas and water cannon Sunday at protesters who marched on Erdogan’s offices in Istanbul and Ankara.
On Saturday, police had withdrawn from Istanbul’s main Taksim Square, the symbolic heart of demonstrations that started over an unpopular building project nearby and boiled over into a general protest against the government.
Crowds of whistling, flag-waving protestors continued to cover Taksim Square but the flashpoint shifted late Sunday to the area near Erdogan’s nearby Istanbul base.
AFP reporters there saw police disperse thousands of demonstrators and incidents continued into early Monday.
Interior Minister Muammer Guler said earlier that more than 1,700 people had been arrested in the unrest nationwide, though most have since been released.
He said 58 civilians and 115 security officers had been injured over several days of protests, although rights groups have put the number of injured higher.
A doctors’ union in Ankara said more than 400 civilians had been injured there including some with serious head wounds.
Rights groups have denounced the violence that police meted out to demonstrators and Turkey’s Western allies have appealed for restraint.
The unrest began as a local outcry against plans to redevelop Gezi Park, a rare green spot near Taksim, but after a heavy-handed police response the protests spread to other districts -- and then to dozens of cities across Turkey.