The last week or so of protests in Turkey
have been sparked by plans to redevelop Gezi Park in Istanbul. The people who occupy that
part of the capital said they would be losing one of the few remaining green spaces in the
city but the uprisings that have followed have much more to do with anti-government
sentiment then the park. Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan leads the Islamist rooted AK party
and he’s won the last three elections with an increasing share of the vote each time.
He’s also presided over some of the fastest economic growth in Europe so why are all the
protests against him? Well first of all there’s the redevelopment of Istanbul. Only 1.5% of
the city is designated as a public park so people are understandably angry about losing
Gezi Park and the adjacent Taksim Square. The plan is to raise the park and rebuild
a 19th Century Ottoman barracks filled with a shopping centre or museum and luxury flats.
Taksim Square which is a historically significant place for protest in Istanbul would be pedestrianized
and see a mosque erected. Erdogan’s also planning to build the world’s biggest airport, a third
bridge across the Bosphorus River at a cost of three billion dollars and a shipping canal
that would turn half the city into an island and that would cost 10 billion dollars. The
building of a mosque in Taksim Square is seen as one of many moves by Erdogan against the
secular constitution of the country. In the past few months he’s sought to limit the sale
of alcohol and acknowledge that the law would be based on Islamic teachings. There have
been two high profile blasphemy cases recently where a famous pianist and a writer were given
jail time for comments they made on Twitter. There have also been moves towards banning
abortion and Erdogan’s spoken openly about creating a more religious generation. The
protesters say that many of these laws infringe on their private lives and prevent them from
living freely. Erdogan’s critics claim that he’s becoming more and more autocratic as
he tries to put his own stamp on the Turkish constitution. He’s been accused of muzzling
the media and refusing to allow a free press. Since these protests started and while the
rest of the world watches on, Turkish TV has been accused of broadcasting cookery shows
and beauty contests instead. In Turkey there’s a limit of three terms for the Prime Minister
and Erdogan would have to step down in 2015 so he’s been campaigning to become President
and to change the role of the presidency to allow him to have executive powers rather
than just a ceremonial role. Despite Erdogan blaming extremist elements and the opposition
Republican People’s Party for stoking things up, the protesters don’t appear to come from
any one side of the political spectrum. There are nationalists, left-wingers, environmentalists,
and more and they’re united against Erdogan but despite the huge number of demonstrations
in more than half the states across the country Erdogan is reportedly still the most popular
politician partly because of the lack of coherent opposition. Erdogan has rejected the idea
that he’s becoming a dictator. He recently said, “I am not the master of the people.
Dictatorship does not run in my blood or my character.” Anyway, if you want to find out more about
the actual events that are going on in Turkey right now, Phil’s explanation is over there.
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