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Amid protests, Turkey's ruling party rules out early elections

ANKARA, Turkey — Police in Ankara fired tear gas and used water cannons to disperse thousands of people protesting near government buildings on Saturday, as Turkey's biggest wave of antigovernment protests in decades entered its second week with no signs of waning.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's governing party, meanwhile, rejected calls for early elections and dismissed protests as an attempt by the opposition to topple the government.

The protests, sparked by outrage over a violent police action to oust an environmental protest in Istanbul's Taksim Square on May 31, and which have spread to dozens of cities across Turkey, are the first serious challenge to Erdogan's leadership.

Three people have died — two protesters and a policeman — and thousands have been injured.

The protests have become a general condemnation of Erdogan, whom many consider to have grown authoritarian in his 10 years in power and accuse of trying to introduce his religious and conservative mores in a country governed by secular laws.

He convened leadership of his Justice and Development party Saturday to discuss the protests.

Speaking after the meeting, party spokesman Huseyin Celik said rumors that the 2015 general elections would be moved forward were "totally baseless, totally unnecessary, made-up and imaginary,"

Celik also accused the main opposition party of trying to topple Erdogan through illegitimate means, "having failed seven times to beat (the Justice party) in the ballot boxes."

The head of Turkey's nationalist party, Devlet Bahceli, had called for early elections for Erdogan to reaffirm his mandate.

"The prime minister's stance and the tumult have deepened the crisis," Bahceli told reporters. "The prime minister's time is up, we believe he has to renew his mandate."

The protests have attracted a broad array of people angered by what they say are Erdogan's increasingly authoritarian ways and intervention in private lives. They point to attempts to curtail the sale of alcohol, his comments on women's dress and statements that each woman should have at least three children.

A devout Muslim who says he is committed to upholding Turkey's secular tradition, Erdogan vehemently rejects charges of autocracy and points out that he enjoyed 50 percent support in the last elections in 2011.

The protests began as a sit-in at Taksim's Gezi Park to prevent a redevelopment project that would replace the park with replica Ottoman barracks and a shopping mall. The mall idea has since been scrapped, with Erdogan recently saying an opera house, theater and possibly a museum would be built instead.

Erdogan said Friday that the protests must end immediately, but they show no signs of abating.

On Saturday, thousands of fans from Istanbul's rival football teams, Fenerbahce, Galatasaray and Besiktas, set aside their usual rivalry to march together and join protesters in Taksim Square. They set off flares, which streaked into the night sky above the packed square.

A group of Besiktas fans also marched in Ankara.

"We are against injustice," Kerim Yilmaz, 26, said. "Our friends' and all of our freedoms are being limited. We do not want our green areas to be used for shopping malls. We all want to live freely. We are here to defend our freedom."

Amid protests, Turkey's ruling party rules out early elections 06/08/13 [Last modified: Sunday, June 9, 2013 12:10am]
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© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

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