Anti-government protests subside in Turkey

Residents of Istanbul and Ankara woke up to a quiet morning Sunday as demonstrations against the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan appeared to have subsided for now.

Thousands of Turks in Istanbul had protested well into Saturday night in what has turned into a nationwide anti-government out-pouring.

Protesters in the capital Ankara set fires to cars and buildings, causing clouds of smoke to mix with of tear gas.

What had started as a small sit-in against the renovation of a central Istanbul square has spiraled into chaos as thousands took to the streets to protest against what they see as Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian style.

Erdogan vowed to press ahead with the redevelopment project and called for demonstrators to end their protests.

Turkish Interior Minister Muammer Guler said more than 900 people have been arrested in protests across the country, while 26 police officers and 53 citizens have been wounded.  Some of those arrested have already been released.

Analysts say the unrest signifies growing discontent over the policies of the Islamist-dominated government, which some accuse of becoming increasingly authoritarian.

Mine Eder, a political science professor at Istanbul’s Bogazici University, tells VOA the movement is drawing from a broad range of the Turkish population.

“I think is sort of a spontaneous civil movement that started with the ownership of the trees and sort of turned into this ‘We’ve had enough with this government and with this style of governance and with the unwillingness of the government to listen to us’,” she said.

Eder says many were frustrated at a perceived decline in freedom of expression following a series of harsh police crackdowns on protests, including at this year’s May Day rally. Others, she says, were frustrated by high unemployment rates.

She says the government’s response shows it is concerned that the protests could spiral out of control, potentially challenging its rule.

Rights groups have already expressed concern at the authorities’ use of force in dealing with the protests.

Amnesty International said Friday that the Turkish authorities should “stop using excessive force against peaceful protesters” and called for an investigation.

A U.S. State Department spokesman said Washington believes Turkey’s long-term stability, security and prosperity is best guaranteed by upholding the fundamental freedoms of expression, assembly and association.