Turkish president seeks talks with protesters

Abdullah Gul urges dialogue with peaceful protesters, saying it is the government's duty to engage with its critics.

    Turkish president seeks talks with protesters
    President Gul has praised the mostly peaceful protesters as expressing their democratic rights [AFP]

    Turkey's president has called for dialogue with non-violent demonstrators after riot police cleared the Istanbul square at the centre of almost two weeks of protest against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government.

    Abdullah Gul, who has taken a more conciliatory tone than Erdogan during the unrest, said on Wednesday it was the duty of government to engage with its critics but appeared to close ranks with the prime minister, saying violent protests were a different matter.

    Erdogan, who has dismissed the demonstrators as "riff-raff", was due to meet a group of public figures to discuss the unrest, which began as a peaceful campaign against redevelopment plans of Gezi Park in Istanbul's Taksim Square.

    "If people have objections ... then to engage in a dialogue with these people, to hear out what they say is no doubt our duty," Gul told reporters.

    "Those who employ violence are something different and we have to distinguish them ... We must not give violence a chance ... This would not be allowed in New York, this would not be allowed in Berlin," Gul said during a visit to the Black Sea coast.

    Taksim riots

    Riot police fought running battles with groups of protesters overnight, clearing Taksim. By dawn, the square was strewn with wreckage from bulldozed barricades but taxis crossed it for the first time since the troubles started.

    Several hundred people remained in an encampment of tents in Gezi Park.

    Taksim Solidarity, an umbrella group for the demonstrators, said the delegation due to meet Erdogan was not representative and the meeting little more than symbolic.

    "Had Solidarity spoken with anyone in this group to share information, the meeting with the prime minister would have meaning. Now it doesn't," said Bulent Muftuoglu, a leading figure in Solidarity and an official of Turkey's Greens Party.

    Hundreds of lawyers packed the entrance hall of Istanbul's main Palace of Justice, chanting slogans to protest at the detention of their colleagues a day earlier in a demonstration supporting the Gezi Park protests.

    "Prosecutor resign", "Everywhere is Taksim, everywhere is resistance," "shoulder-to-shoulder against fascists", the lawyers shouted, dressed in their court gowns, some shaking their fists, others clapping.

    "The police are intervening in an illegal way against citizens exercising their constitutional and democratic rights to protest," Istanbul Bar Association Chairman Umit Kocasakal said in a statement to the crowd.

    The night had brought some of the worst clashes since the protests began. Police fired tear gas into a crowd of thousands gathered on Taksim, including people in office clothes who had gathered after work, some of them families with children.

    The crowd scattered into narrow streets around, leaving some protesters to return, lighting bonfires and stoning water cannon.

    Police then launched tear gas attacks again, the cycle repeating itself until numbers dwindled.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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