World Bulletin/News Desk
In first comments on the excessive use of police force to disperse demonstrators protesting the planned demolition of the Gezi Park in Taksim, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has acknowledged that police used excessive force in Taksim.
“There was a mistake while using pepper gas by police forces. Okay. I have ordered the Interior Ministry to investigate this. It was excessive,” Erdoğan said while speaking at the general assembly of the Turkish Exporters Assembly (TİM) on Saturday.
"I express again with all sincerity that everyone in this country has the right to express his/her views freely. Everyone in this country has the right to hold a rally within boundaries of democracy and laws. However, no one has the right to act against laws, conduct acts out of democracy, and give damage to shop keepers, residents or pedestrians. No one has the right to increase tension in Turkey by using uprooted trees as an excuse," Erdogan said.
“I am requesting the protestors to immediately end these demonstrations,” he said.
Yet Erdogan defied calls to withdraw police from Taksim. “Police were there, are there and will be there in Taksim,” he said.
Erdogan vowed to push ahead with the redevelopment of the city's central Taksim Square, and said the issue was being used as an excuse to stoke tensions.
Erdoğan also said the current work in Taksim has nothing to do with the project to build a replica of the Topçu Barracks or a mall, while vowing to rebuild the barracks. “We will rebuild the Topçu Barracks. But the current work is not related to this,” he added.
“It is unfair to label this government anti-green and anti-environmentalist,” he said.
“I want my nation to see the game some circles are playing in the country,” Erdoğan said.
“Everyone should know that Turkey is a country where parliamentarian system fully functions. Every method other than elections is anti-democratic. I am not saying the government is not accountable. We are not claiming that the government does whatever it wants. But, just like how majority cannot put pressure on minority, the minority also cannot impose its will on majority,” he said.
Erdoğan, who earlier said new barracks to be rebuilt will become a shopping mall and a residential area, said the building can also serve as a city museum.
"Those who have a problem with government's policies can express their opinions within the framework of law and democracy ... I am asking the protesters to immediately end these actions," he said.
Erdogan has overseen a transformation in Turkey during his decade in power, turning its economy from crisis-prone into Europe's fastest-growing, and remains by far the country's most popular politician.
The U.S. State Department said it was concerned by the number of injuries while Amnesty International and the European parliament raised concern about excessive use of police force.
Interior Minister Muammer Guler said allegations that police had used disproportionate force would be investigated.
President calls for more maturity from everyone
Turkish President Abdullah Gul on Saturday said that reactions in a democratic society must be given by respecting laws and acting calmly with common sense.
In a written statement released on Saturday, President Gul said that "in return, public officials must make more efforts to listen to different thoughts and concerns.”
"I have shared these points with all government and state officials, beginning with Prime Minister Erdogan this morning. I believe that everyone will do what they have to do so that calm prevails," Gul also said.
Construction and Provocation
Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said on Saturday that the court has made the right decision to halt the execution of the Taksim Gezi Park constructions.
Regarding the incidents at Istanbul's Taksim Gezi Park on Friday, Turkish Deputy PM Arinc stated that certain intelligence agencies and agent provocateurs are trying to render Turkey vulnerable to provocations, saying "This is what we encounter in Reyhanli and Cilvegozu. We trust the common sense of our people. We believe they will display more sensitivity in such issues."
Arinc expressed his unrest about the videos and photos published related to Taksim incidents, "Unfortunately, we saw unwanted scenes as some provacateurs, mingling with the protestors, tried to divert the issue."
"Our Interior Ministry has launched the investigation on claims of the excessive use of force and the endangerment of sincere people. Besides, the 6th Administrative Court of Istanbul urgently ruled yesterday to halt the execution of Taksim Gezi Park constructions, which I consider right and to the point. The administration has to obey the rule and tell people in an appropriate way what they are building and aim to build there," he noted.
Following the clashes, Governor of Istanbul Huseyin Ayni Mutlu announced on Friday that 63 were detained.
Within the scope of the Taksim pedestrianization project, approved by the government in February 2012, the Gezi Park walls facing the Elmadag area were demolished by construction workers on Monday night. Shortly after, a group of protesters came to the park to prevent further uprooting of the trees and demolition of walls.