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Turkish govt apologises for crackdown on protesters

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-06-04

Turkey’s deputy prime minister has apologised for the use of excessive force against peaceful protesters in Istanbul last week that sparked wider demonstrations across the country, amid reports of a second death from clashes in the south.

Turkey’s deputy prime minister, Bulent Arinc, on Tuesday apologised for the violent crackdown on peaceful demonstrators that sparked nationwide anti-government protests, as the reported death toll from the unrest rose to two.

“The excessive violence that was used in the first instance against those who were behaving with respect for the environment is wrong and unfair. I apologise to those citizens,” Bulent Arinc told a press conference in the capital, Ankara.

Bulent Arinc, who has been left in charge of the government during Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s tour of North Africa, also called on people to stop the protests that officials say have injured more than 300 people since Friday.

However, activists and doctors have put the number of injured much higher, with the United Nations joining Washington in pressing for a full investigation into alleged excesses by police.

Arinc said he would try to meet with some of the organisers of the initial peaceful protest.

Second protester dead

As clashes entered a fifth day on Tuesday, a second death was reported in the southern city of Antakya. According to local media, 22-year-old Abdullah Comert died in hospital Monday night after being hit in the head at a protest rally.

Comert was a member of the youth branch of the Republican People's Party (CHP), according to Hasan Akgol, a main opposition party lawmaker, cited by Turkish TV channel NTV.

While anti-government activists claimed Comert was shot in the head by the police during the protests, the local prosecutor said the autopsy showed Comert received a blow to the head and there was no trace of a gunshot wound.

With the latest casualty, the death toll rose to at least two in the fiercest protests against Prime Minister Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power roughly a decade ago.

The unrest began on Friday after police cracked down on a demonstration that participants say was a peaceful protest in Istanbul against plans to build over Gezi Park, a rare green spot adjoining Taksim Square.

Anti-government protests quickly started springing up across the country.

Protesters have condemned what they say is Erdogan’s authoritarian approach to government, accusing him of trying to impose conservative Islamic reforms on secular Turkey.

The clashes have exposed the tensions at the heart of Turkey, which although constitutionally a secular state is peopled mostly by Muslims.

Since coming to power in 2002, Erdogan has passed contested reforms on religious education and a recent law curbing the sale of alcohol. In 2004 he backed down on a proposed adultery law.

Unions denounce ‘state terror’

Meanwhile, one of Turkey’s main trade union confederations called for a two-day strike starting Tuesday in protest at the government crackdown on demonstrators, which it denounced as "state terror".

"The state terror implemented against entirely peaceful protests is continuing in a way that threatens civilians' life safety," Turkey's Confederation of Public Workers' Unions (KESK) said in a statement on its website.

In Istanbul, riot police fired tear gas at thousands of protestors who burned cars, hurled stones and chanted angry slogans into the early hours of Tuesday. As white fumes hung in the air in surrounding streets, other protestors swarmed Taksim Square, the symbolic heart of the protests.

Similar scenes unfolded in the capital, Ankara, where, police used tear gas and water cannon to disperse hundreds of protestors early Tuesday.

Before Tuesday’s apology, Erdogan had slammed demonstrators as "extremists" and "dissidents" from the ranks of the opposition, dismissing talk of a “Turkish Spring”.

He even lashed out at Twitter, used by many of the protesters, accusing the online messaging service of spreading "lies".

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

Date created : 2013-06-04

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