Major trade union launches two-day strike backing Turkey protests

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, June 4, 2013 5:22 EDT
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Demonstrators clash with riot police in Istanbul on June 4, 2013 via AFP
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One of Turkey’s main trade union confederations joined protests against the government, after another night of clashes between police and demonstrators in Istanbul and Ankara.

Turkey’s Confederation of Public Workers’ Unions (KESK) has called a two-day strike from Tuesday to protest against the police crackdown.

“The state terror implemented against entirely peaceful protests is continuing in a way that threatens civilians’ life safety,” the KESK said Monday in a statement on its website.

The police crackdown showed the Islamist-rooted government’s “enmity to democracy”, it said.

The left-leaning confederation has some 240,000 members in 11 unions and the action will likely affect schools, universities and public offices across the country.

Turkish police and anti-government protesters clashed again in Istanbul early Tuesday, as the reported death toll from nationwide protests rose to two.

Riot police fired tear gas at protestors who burned cars, hurled stones and bellowed angry slogans into the early hours. Similar scenes played out in the capital Ankara.

Earlier, as white fumes hung in the air in surrounding streets, thousands of other protestors gathered on Taksim Square, the symbolic heart of the protests.

“Tayyip, resign!” they yelled, waving red flags and banners and whistling.

AFP reporters saw many demonstrators being carried away by medics.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who had already left on a trip to Morocco, had insisted on Monday the situation was calming down.

He rejected talk of a “Turkish Spring” uprising by Turks who accuse him of trying to impose Islamic reforms on the secular state.

The clashes, which have rocked scores of cities across Turkey, have now entered a fifth day.

Erdogan has blamed the protests on “extremists” and “dissidents” among his opponents and on Monday insisted the situation was calming down.

“The Republican People’s Party and other dissidents have a hand in these events,” he said, referring to the main Turkish opposition.

A medics’ union earlier Monday said a man had been killed when a car ploughed into protestors in Istanbul on Sunday.

And early Tuesday, private television station NTV reported that a 22-year-old man had died after being shot in the head in Hatay province, in the south of the country.

The wave of protests began on Friday after police cracked down on a peaceful protest in Istanbul against plans to build over Gezi Park, a rare green spot adjoining Taksim Square.

That generated wider anti-government protests in Istanbul, Ankara and dozens of other cities.

Rights groups and doctors said more than a thousand people had been injured in clashes in Istanbul and 700 in Ankara.

The government’s latest estimate on Sunday put the figure at 58 civilians and 115 security forces injured, with clashes in 67 cities. It also said more than 1,700 people had been arrested across the country but that many had since been released.

Deputy Premier Bulent Arinc, who is standing in for Erdogan during his absence from the country, was due to speak to journalists about the unrest at 0900 GMT Tuesday, the Anatolia news agency reported.

Erdogan has dismissed the protestors as “vandals”, stressing that he had been democratically elected.

His Justice and Development Party (AKP) has won three successive parliamentary elections, but opponents have expressed mounting concern that Turkey is moving toward conservative Islam.

Echoing Britain and other Western allies of Turkey, US Secretary of State John Kerry voiced concern Monday over “reports of excessive use of force” by police. He urged all sides to “avoid any provocations or violence”.

Erdogan’s ally President Abdullah Gul called for calm, assuring protestors that their voices had been heard.

The clashes over the last few days have exposed the tensions at the heart of Turkey, which although constitutionally a secular state is peopled mostly by Muslims.

The Istanbul stock exchange closed 10 percent lower on Monday and the Turkish lira fell against the euro and the dollar.

Since coming to power in 2002, Erdogan has passed contested reforms on religious education and a recent law curbing the sale of alcohol. In 2004 he backed down on a proposed adultery law.

Shrugging off the rising protests, he pushed ahead on Monday with what he said was a pre-planned four-day official trip to Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia.

Before he left, he referred to next year’s elections, when observers expect him to run for president.

“I don’t know what the president (Gul) said, but for me, democracy comes from the ballot box,” he said.

Agence France-Presse
Agence France-Presse
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