ISTANBUL – Turkey’s prime minister on Sunday rejected claims that he is a “dictator,” dismissing protesters as an extremist fringe, even as thousands returned to the Istanbul square that has become the site of the fiercest anti-government outburst in years.
Over the past three days, protesters around the country have unleashed pent-up resentment against Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who after 10 years in office many Turks see as an uncompromising figure with undue influence in every part of life.
A huge, exuberant protest in Taksim Square subsided overnight, but an estimated 10,000 people again streamed into the area on Sunday, many waving flags, chanting “victory, victory, victory” and calling on Erdogan’s government to resign.
About 7,000 people took part in protests in Ankara, the capital, that turned violent on Sunday, with demonstrators throwing fire bombs and police firing tear gas.
Some protesters have compared Erdogan to a sultan and denounced him as a dictator. Scrambling to show he was unbowed and appealing to a large base of conservative Turks who support him, Erdogan delivered two speeches on Sunday and appeared in a television interview.
With Turkish media otherwise giving scant reports about the protests, many turned to social media outlets for information on the unrest.
“There is now a menace which is called Twitter,” Erdogan said. “The best examples of lies can be found there. To me, social media is the worst menace to society.”
Under Erdogan’s leadership, Turkey has boosted economic growth and raised its international profile. But he has been a divisive figure at home, with his government recently passing legislation curbing the sale of alcohol and taking a strong stand against the Syrian regime that some believe has put security at risk.
The demonstrations were ignited on Friday by a violent police crackdown on a sit-in to prevent the uprooting of trees at Taksim Square in Istanbul and have since spread around the country.
“If they call someone who has served the people a ‘dictator,’ I have nothing to say,” Erdogan said in an address to a group representing migrants from the Balkans. “My only concern has been to serve my country.”