Major Anti-Government Riots Engulf Turkey

By:  Alex Newman
Major Anti-Government Riots Engulf Turkey

What began last week as a protest against changes to a park in Istanbul, Turkey, quickly morphed into at least tens of thousands of furious demonstrators in major cities across the country.

Violent nationwide riots aimed at the increasingly authoritarian rule of Islamist Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his elected government are also wreaking havoc.

Some analysts argue that the riots are a response to government attacks on freedom, even labeling the unrest a “Turkish Spring” similar to the now-infamous “Arab Spring.” Others, however, point to far-left communist agitators in the streets hoping to exploit some of the worst chaos to rock Turkey in decades. For now, at least, the true causes and goals remain relatively unclear. 

An estimated 1,700 protesters had already been arrested by Monday morning as the unrest spread to at least 65 cities and towns nationwide. Amid a fierce police crackdown using water cannons and tear gas, according to protesters cited in media reports, over 1,000 people were injured. At least two protesters have reportedly been killed as well, and more than 25 police officers have been injured by stone-throwing mobs so far.

Meanwhile, rioters continued setting fires and destroying property as a group of protesters drove a bulldozer toward the prime minister’s office. Angry citizens have also been setting up “occupy” camps, sparking police raids. As government forces tried to clamp down on the disorder, however, the protests grew, with opposition members of Parliament and prominent citizens joining the crowds as well. Reports of police and soldiers siding with the protesters have also surfaced.  

The demonstrators say the Islamist government, re-elected in 2011 with wide margins, is becoming increasingly totalitarian. Among other examples, protesters have cited attacks on freedom of the press and efforts to impose Islamic values on the population such as recent curbs on alcohol. Critics quoted in international media reports also accused the prime minister of ruling like a “dictator.”

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Photo of rioting in Ankara, Turkey: AP Images

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