Turkey Deputy PM apologises to Gezi Park protesters

Turkey's Deputy PM Bulent Arinc: "The use of excessive force shown against the people who initially started this protest... was wrong and it was unfair"

Turkey's Deputy PM Bulent Arinc has apologised to protesters injured in demonstrations opposing the demolition of an Istanbul park.

The original protests over the redevelopment of Gezi Park were "just and legitimate", he said, offering to meet the organisers.

But he called for the demonstrations to end, saying they had been taken over by "terrorist elements".

The protests have escalated into five days of unrest in cities across Turkey.

"The use of excessive force shown against the people who initially started this protest with the motive of protecting the environment was wrong. And it was unfair. So I apologise to those citizens," Mr Arinc said at a news conference in Ankara.

However, he added: "I do not think we need to apologise to those who create destruction of public property in the streets and who try to prevent the freedom of the people in the streets."

Analysis

While Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan maintains his hard stance on the protests, his deputy, Bulent Arinc, was more moderate and conciliatory in his speech.

Following a meeting with President Abdullah Gul, Mr Arinc apologised for the use of excessive force against peaceful protests in the central district of Istanbul.

"The initial reaction against the demolition of the park was legitimate and patriotic," Mr Arinc said.

On social media, this rhetoric is interpreted as an insincere attempt to quell the anger.

According to some protesters, Mr Arinc is again playing 'good cop' to Mr Erdogan's 'bad cop'. Some people also argue that this reflects the perceived political divisions within the ruling party. On Monday, President Gul, a co-founder of the governing AKP party, said they heard the crowd.

Founded by neo-Islamists, the AKP includes different factions of Turkish right wing politics. It is known that there are some disagreements, to put it mildly, among the party ranks.

So the question is whether the recent events will deepen the divisions within the party.

Protests continue

Hours after he spoke, thousands of people gathered once again in Istanbul's Taksim Square, which is the focal point of the protests.

The square is much calmer than on previous nights, the BBC's Selin Girit reports from the scene.

There has been no sign of tear gas, whose use by police has been one of the main grievances of the protesters, she adds.

People have been chanting "have you heard us?" in the hope the government is listening to their demands.

Earlier on Tuesday the left-wing Kesk trade union confederation, representing some 240,000 public sector workers, has begun a two-day strike in support of the protests and accused the government of committing "state terror".

Another trade union confederation, Disk, has said it will join the strike on Wednesday.

Mr Arinc's conciliatory remarks contrast with the tougher line taken by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who says the protests are undemocratic.

Speaking during a trip to Morocco, Mr Erdogan told reporters: "On my return from this visit, the problems will be solved."

Meanwhile Turkish television station NTV has apologised for failing to cover the initial protests.

The chief executive of the conglomerate that owns NTV, Cem Aydin of Dogus, said criticism of the channel was "fair to a large extent".

"Our audience feels like they were betrayed," he said after a meeting with staff, some of whom resigned in protest at the lack of coverage.

The BBC's James Reynolds reports from inside the protesters' "mini-republic"

'Authoritarian tendency'

Gezi Park

  • The demolition of Gezi Park - the issue which sparked the protests - is a part of a wider urban redevelopment project in Istanbul
  • The government wants to pedestrianise and ease traffic around Taksim Square; Kalyon Group, a company which has close ties with the government, has been contracted to carry out the project
  • The project also includes building a shopping centre which PM Erdogan says would not be "a traditional mall", but rather would include cultural centres, an opera house and a mosque
  • The plan also includes rebuilding an Ottoman-era military barracks near the site and demolishing the historic Ataturk Cultural Centre
  • The government has been making ambiguous and inconsistent statements about the project, which is causing concern among protesters who oppose replacing the green city park with grey concrete

The protests began on 28 May over plans to redevelop Gezi Park near Taksim Square in Istanbul.

They soon mushroomed, engulfing several cities and including political demands.

Clashes were also reported on Sunday in the western coastal city of Izmir, Adana in the south and Gaziantep in the south-east.

Officials have confirmed two deaths in the protests. One man died after being shot by an unidentified gunman in the southern city of Antakya.

Another died after being hit by a car that ploughed into a crowd in Istanbul.

The Turkish Human Rights Association, an NGO, said more than 2,800 protesters had been injured across the country, many of them seriously, and that 791 had been detained, of whom "around 500" have since been released.

Mr Arinc said that 244 police officers and 64 protesters had been injured, and more than 70m Turkish lira (£24m; $37m) worth of public damage had been caused.

Protesters accuse the Turkish government of becoming increasingly authoritarian.

They fear Mr Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) is trying to impose conservative Islamic values on the officially secular country and infringe on their personal freedoms, correspondents say.

Mr Erdogan is still the most popular politician in the country, but he is discovering that a ruling style that his opponents say is autocratic has its limits, the BBC's Middle East Editor Jeremy Bowen reports from Istanbul.

Erdogan's Turkey was seen as a runaway success by many in Europe and the Middle East; now it is looking tarnished, with deeper problems than its allies - and enemies - realised, he adds.

Map of protest locations in Turkey and Istanbul

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