Supporters of June protests against the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan have changed tactics again.
Yesterday, hundreds of imitators of Taksim Square’s now famous “standing man” took to streets across the country in an act of passive resistance.
By remaining completely unmoving, staring at a fixed point, and making no sound, protesters are immune to arrests by the legions of armed police ringing Taksim Square and Istanbul’s historical districts.
In library-like silence (many of them reading), protesters stand for hours on end in silent opposition to the brutality of police tactics and the uncompromising government response to criticism.
Across Besiktas district and on nearby Istiklal Avenue, one of Istanbul’s most iconic streets, small groups of protesters stages similar silent sit ins over hours, vowing to remain for days and months. Some carried signs declaring solidarity with anti-government protests in Brazil, which were met with similar police violence.
Similar protests took place across Turkey, including in Ankara, at the location where one protester was allegedly killed by police.
Today, the Turkish Doctors’ Union (TBB) released the number of injured and killed in the police actions over the weekend. According to TBB (whose estimates are usually higher than the media), 7,822 were injured (though this included “pepper gas-related [burn] and respiratory complications”), with 59 in serious or critical condition.
In addition, four protesters and one police officer were killed, one pregnant woman lost her baby during the gassing of Divan Hotel, and 11 lost eyesight.
A disturbing number of reports mention eye, brain, or facial injuries from rubber bullets aimed at the head, which can be lethal. Rubber bullets are intended to be ricocheted off pavement to minimize their impact. They were widely used in clashes with protesters before the clearance of Gezi.
In the shadow of this news, Erdogan has vowed to “strengthen” the power of police forces against anti-government protests, which he has branded as the work of “internal traitors and external collaborators.” Quoted by Hurriyet, he said:
“Within the authority the law provides, from now on, our police will not overlook any lawlessness, will continue to fulfill its duty. We will further strengthen our police… in every way… so that we will increase the intervention power against these events…
It is their most inherent right… When you do not obey, the police use this authority.”
Following the PM’s lead, members of his party are suggesting the protests were planned for several months and represent the interest of a foreign-led “interest rate” conspiracy to undermine the AKP government.
Alarmingly, Erdogan is now directly blaming the main opposition party, the Republican Peoples’ Party (CHP), amid widespread arrests of political opponents connected to Gezi. More than 70 were detained on charges of supporting journalists, including journalists.
Arbitrary arrests are on the rise, and many detained over the weekend are still missing, having not been allowed to contact relatives or legal aid.
Personally frightening is that Erdogan has now questioned the legitimacy of Turkey’s yellow press cards, issued by the Prime Ministry to journalists, essentially giving himself carte blanche to arrest any critical members of the media (not that I have one of those anyway).
Meanwhile, Erdogan’s personal spat with the European Union continues. The United Nations Secretary-General has issued a condemning statement, while the EU are considering suspending accession talks due to start next month. Turkey’s EU Minister earlier refused to meet an EU delegation, forcing them to postpone their visit.
In Germany, which has a large Turkish expat population, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) have put the rejection of Turkey’s EU membership in their election platform.
While hundreds imitate the standing man in their own form of silent protest, Gezi remains closed to the public which it was allegedly cleared to protect, occupied now not by protesters, but by bored police.
In Turkish news:
- The government continues work on its internet censorship bill, which Interior Minister Muammer Guler said would protect against the spread of “false news.” Given the rose-tinted falsity of news published by hilarious government outlet Andalou Agency and pro-government Sabah Daily (which believes the protests were caused by Turkey’s rich economic potential), one hopes their Twitter accounts would be the first targeted. Unfortunately, looking at the history of media laws in Turkey, it is much more likely to target anti-government news, false or otherwise.
- Turkey’s development plans may be threatening an entire endangered peoples in Northern Iraq, the Marsh Arabs. Global Post reports that Turkey’s plans to build several expansive hydroelectric dams on rivers that feed the marshes will probably be the final nail in the coffin of their way of life, unless they can convince the Turkish government not to build.
Elsewhere in the world:
- My least-favourite most-powerful country in the world, Qatar, is hosting talks between the US and the Taliban after the Americans apparently dropped condemnation of Al-Qaeda as a precondition for talks. The Taliban have demonstrated their good intentions by attacking Bagram airbase and killing four US soldiers.
- Egypt is seeing a record number of blasphemy cases filed by Salafi (hardcore, Saudi-style) Islamists, who are buddy-buddy with the government of President Mohammed Morsi. According to the New York Times, though blasphemy laws have occasionally been employed to protect Egypt’s Christian minority from hate speech by Salafi preachers, the vast majority are filed by Salafis against Christians, who were accused by one lawyer of a “systemic campaign” to insult Islam. Egypt is also experiencing Occupy-style protests in front of the Culture Ministry over the perceived Islamisation of their culture program by a government that once described ballet as “indecent.”
- Iran elected a moderate in this weekend’s elections, Hassan Rohani, by just over 50 per cent, far surpassing other candidates. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is trying to ensure people continue to be scared of Iran, while Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said the election was “essentially meaningless” while simultaneously denying Iranian-Canadians the right to vote in it.