Weeks of demonstrations could benefit AKP’s grip on power – or be a game-changer.
Police in Turkey have arrested 85 people following more than two weeks of anti-government protests.
Muammer Guler, Turkish interior minister, said on Tuesday that 62 people had been detained in Istanbul, Turkey’s biggest city, while 23 others had been arrested in the capital Ankara as a result of raids in several cities.
“The operations are against members of the Marxist-Leninist Communist Party, who also attended the Gezi Park protests, as part of an investigation being conducted by prosecutors for more than a year,” Guler said.
Al Jazeera’s Hashem Ahelbarra, reporting from Istanbul, said the detained people were accused of damaging public property and inciting violence.
Earlier, police detained a dozen people who stood still at Istanbul’s Taksim Square in a form of passive defiance against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s authority after activists were ousted from a sit-in at Gezi Park over the weekend.
Erodogan brushed aside criticism of the crackdown on Tuesday and vowed to increase the police’s powers to deal with the unrest.
Erdogan also defended police use of pepper spray against the protesters.
“Using pepper stray is natural right of the police. Have they fired a bullet, have they used guns?… The police forces have passed the democracy test,” he said in an address to his Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) parliamentary group at the assembly.
The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu sharply criticised Erdogan for his speech.
Accusing Erdogan of behaving a like a dictator, Kilicdaroglu said that Turkey’s reputation had increased as a result of “youth’s cry for freedom”.
“Our youth won. Recep Tayyip Erdogan lost,” he said in an address to CHP’s parliamentary group.
The Human Rights Watch (HRW) has stated that it documented “a huge wave of arbitrary detentions and police attacks” during the Gezi Park protests in Istanbul over the weekend.
In a statement published on its website on Tuesday, HRW said Erdogan government’s use of force in a clampdown on protesters has “precipitated a deepening human rights and political crisis in Turkey”.
Facing criticisms from inside and outside Turkey, AKP will continue to organise “Respect to National Will” rallies this week to counter anti-government protests.
Erdogan announced that such rallies, initally held in Ankara and Istanbul during the weekend would continue in Kayseri on Friday, in Samsun on Saturday and Erzurum on Sunday.
Turkish President Abdullah Gul called on anti-government demonstrators to stop their protests.
Gul warned that Turkey’s image should be protected in all aspects.
“You make effort to create this image in 10 years, but you can destroy it within a week,” Gul said in Ankara on Tuesday.
The crisis began when a sit-in to save Gezi Park’s 600 trees from being razed in a redevelopment project prompted a brutal police response on May 31, escalating into countrywide demonstrations against Erdogan, seen as increasingly authoritarian.
According to the Turkish Medical Association (TBB), four people have been killed and nearly 7,500 people injured during clashes between protesters and the security forces.