The AK Party has united social conservatives and presided over a burgeoning economy, but also left the nation divided.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called on anti-government protesters occupying an Istanbul park to leave the area, and has also rebuked the European Parliament for criticising his government’s handling of over two weeks of protests.
Erdogan’s “last warning” followed severe clashes between police and protesters at Taksim Square, the centre of Turkey’s most-populated city, on Wednesday. Protesters have been confronting police for more than two weeks against plans to redevelop Gezi Park.
In an address to the mayors of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the capital Ankara on Thursday, Erdogan said that the authorities would get rid of “troublemakers” in Taksim Square.
“I am making my last warning: mothers and fathers, please withdraw your kids from there,” Erdogan said. “Gezi Park does not belong to occupying forces […] Taksim Square belongs to all citizens of Istanbul, to all citizens of Turkey, to all international citizens of the world who are visiting my country.”
In a statement issued later in the day, Turkish protesters said they would remain in the park despite Erdogan’s remarks.
“We will stay in Gezi Park with all our demands and sleeping bags,” said the Taksim Solidarity Platform, an umbrella group of protesters.
The prime minister also struck back at the disapproving stance of the European Parliament over the ferocity of a police crackdown and accused some international media of exaggerated reporting.
“Look at Greece and what happened there when police and protestors clashed,” Erdogan said.
‘Harsh measures’ criticised
In a resolution adopted on Thursday in Strasbourg, the legislative body of the European Union warned the government against the use of “harsh measures” against peaceful protestors and urged Erdogan to take a “unifying and conciliatory” stance.
The EU institution expressed its deep concern “at the disproportionate and excessive use of force by Turkish police to break up peaceful and legitimate protests in Istanbul’s Gezi Park”, but welcomed “the moderate response to the protests by President Abdullah Gul and Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc”.
In his speech, Erdogan also said that “security forces may use tear gas when necessary” as it is “their legal right to do so”, in response to criticisms of the police’s conduct in dealing with the protests.
President Gul, who has struck a more conciliatory tone than Erdogan, said on Wednesday that it was the duty of the government to engage with critics, but also appeared to close ranks with the prime minister, saying violent protests were a different matter.
“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 said.
Turkey has been in turmoil since late May after a sit-in protest against an urban development project in the heart of Istanbul transformed into country-wide anti-government demonstrations.
Erdogan and his government refuse to alter their position regarding the project, downplaying the protests over Gezi Park.
The prime minister has various times accused foreign forces, international media and market speculators of stoking the unrest and trying to undermine the Turkish economy.
The prime minister has recently brought up the idea of a referendum in order to decide the fate of the project.