ISTANBUL - Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Friday his Islamic-rooted government was open to “democratic demands” and hit back at EU criticism of his handling of a week of deadly unrest.
Amid international condemnation over rights abuses in the unrest, European Union Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule told Erdogan that excessive police force “has no place” in a democracy, urging a “swift and transparent” probe into the abuses in Turkey, a longtime EU hopeful.
“Peaceful demonstrations constitute a legitimate way for these groups to express their views in a democratic society. Excessive use of force by police against these demonstrations has no place in such a democracy,” Fule said at an Istanbul conference.
In response, Erdogan said he was against violence and accused European allies of double standards.
“In any European country, whenever there is a violent protest against a demolition project like this, believe me, those involved face a harsher response,” the premier said at the same conference.
Turkey’s protests began when police cracked down heavily on a peaceful campaign to save Istanbul’s Gezi Park, spiralling into nationwide anti-government demos.
“I’m open-hearted to anyone with democratic demands,” said Erdogan. “What we are against is terrorism, violence, vandalism and actions that threaten others for the sake of freedoms.”
Earlier on Friday, thousands of cheering supporters of Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) welcomed the premier back from an overseas trip, their first public show of strength since the anti-government trouble erupted.
But in defiance of Erdogan’s call for an “immediate end” to the protests, whistle-blowing, singing demonstrators packed Istanbul’s Taksim Square, the epicentre of the movement, for an eighth night.
“Nobody wants to go home. Everybody wants freedom,” said 22-year-old student Sertac Selvi.
In a high-profile boost to their cause, supporters of the protests raised more than $100,000 in an online fundraising drive to run a full-page ad in the New York Times Friday explaining why the demonstrators are so furious. The ad, titled “What’s Happening in Turkey?” and signed by the Gezi Democracy Movement, says during Erdogan’s 10 years in power Turks have seen their civil rights and freedoms erode, with many journalists, artists and elected officials arrested.
Turkey’s key strategic ally the United States and other Western powers have in recent days expressed concern about the police’s use of tear gas and water cannon on the demonstrators, in clashes that have injured thousands and led to three deaths.