Istanbul, (Hurriyet Daily News): More than 10,000 supporters of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan flocked to Istanbul’s Atatürk Airport to greet him on his return from his four-day trip to North Africa in a show of solidarity with the country’s most influential politician over ongoing Gezi Park protests that have shaken Turkey in the last 10 days.
In the first extensive public show of support since anti-government protests erupted last week, Erdoğan delivered a fiery speech on his return and said, “These protests that are bordering on illegality must come to an end as of now”.
Tens of thousands of protesters have held demonstrations that have spread to dozens of cities across Turkey, sparked by the violent police reaction last Friday to what started out as a small protest against a plan to develop Istanbul’s central Taksim Square.
Since then, three people have died – two protesters and a policeman – and thousands have been wounded. One protester is on life support in a hospital in Ankara. Protesters from all walks of life have occupied the square and its park, objecting to what they say is Erdoğan’s increasingly autocratic and arrogant manner – charges he vehemently denies.
“God is Great,” his supporters chanted, and soon moved on to slogans referring specifically to the protesters in Taksim Square. “Let us go, let us smash them,” they shouted. “Istanbul is here, where are the looters?”
Erdoğan had initially referred to the protesters as looters and troublemakers, while also acknowledging that excessive police force might have been used, and promising it would be investigated.
“They say I am the prime minister of only 50 percent. It’s not true. We have served the whole of the 76 million from the east to the west,” he said, referring to his election win in 2011, when he took 50 percent of the vote.
“Together we are Turkey. Together we are brothers,” he said, adding, “We have never endeavored to break hearts. We are in favor of mending hearts.”
“We have never been for building tension and polarization. But we cannot applaud brutality,” he said. In his last speech in Tunisia before flying to Istanbul, Erdoğan had said that terrorist groups were involved in the protests, saying they had been identified.
In a twist, Erdogan implied that bankers were also part of a conspiracy that was fuelling the protests. He added that the flames of dissent had been fanned by other groups too. “Those who call themselves journalists, artists, politicians, have, in a very irresponsible way, opened the way for hatred, discrimination and provocation,” he said.