ISTANBUL – Police clashed with anti-government protesters in major cities around Turkey for a fourth day Monday as one of the country’s biggest public service unions threatened a nationwide strike today to show its discontent with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government.
In Ankara, police in helicopters, firing tear gas and plastic bullets, pursued groups of demonstrators throughout the city, Turkish television reported. On the ground, they discharged tear gas at one group of about 1,000 demonstrators. But more young people flocked to the city center.
In the western port city of Izmir, protesters threw firebombs at the offices of Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party overnight, setting the building ablaze, Turkish television reported.
In Istanbul, where the protests began over the government’s plans to build a shopping center in one of the few parks in the city center, a Turkish doctors’ association announced the first fatality of the clashes: a young leftist killed when a car struck him during a protest on a major highway.
The Obama administration Monday took the unusual step of delivering a public dressing-down of the Turkish government, a vital ally, for excessive use of force.
Secretary of State John Kerry called for “a full investigation” of reports of excessive force and “full restraint from police.” He urged both the government and the protesters “to avoid any provocations and violence.”
The White House said those protesting were peaceful, law-abiding citizens, exercising their right to free expression, a different take from Erdogan’s on the nature of the protests.
The combative leader, boasting that he’s won three elections and has the support of half the country, showed no intention of defusing the tension, which erupted after police used heavy-handed tactics against a peaceful protest in Istanbul’s Gezi Park that began last week after workers began chopping down trees. After calling the protesters “looters” and “extremists” over the weekend, he charged Monday that they were walking “arm in arm with terrorists,” Reuters reported.
Those demonstrating up to now have been mainly high school and university students, but the threat of a national strike by public employees raised the possibility of a challenge the government will find difficult to manage.
The Confederation of Public Workers’ Unions said it will start a two-day strike today, involving a quarter-million workers in 11 unions, which, depending on the turnout, could bring public services to a standstill.