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Turkey Erupts in Rage: Anti-Government Protests Spread to 60 Cities

The unrest in Istanbul was sparked by a government plan to demolish a park in Taksim Square.

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As all of this unfolded, CNN-Turkey was widely criticized for airing a three-part documentary on penguins while CNN International was covering the protests. Few of the television stations in the country covered the protests while they were happening. And on Sunday, the Turkish prime minister, Tayyip Erdoğan, dismissed the unrest.

PRIME MINISTER TAYYIP ERDOĞAN: [translated] Unfortunately, we have been witnessing undesired incidents, attacks and provocations over the past few days. We are once again experiencing the traps that were sent in the past to threaten governments and create chaotic scenes in order to pave the way for interventions against democracy.

AMY GOODMAN: Protests in solidarity with those in Turkey were also held around the world over the weekend, from New York to Belgium. The Turkish demonstrations are being compared to the Egyptian uprising that began in Tahrir Square and to the Occupy Movement that begins with—began with the occupation of Zuccotti Park near Wall Street.

For more, we go to Istanbul, where we’re joined by Koray Çalişkan. He is assistant professor of political science at a university in Istanbul. He participated in the protests, is now at his office, where he joins us via Democracy Now! video stream.

Professor, welcome to Democracy Now! Can you describe for us what is happening in the streets of Istanbul, in the capital Ankara and other places?

KORAY ÇALIŞKAN: Yes. Right now, in more than 60 cities of the country, there are more than a hundred demonstrations, bringing together more than three million people. The Taksim Square, the main avenue, this is like the Times Square of New York City, exactly. And imagine that there’s a public park, you know, this park right in front of the public library, and the president wants to build a shopping mall on a public park or cutting a part of Central Park to build a mall and a residential tower. This is what happened, what Prime Minister Erdogan wanted to do in Istanbul. And as you nicely put it, three days ago, 700 people gathered to protest this, and police gassed them. Next day, 7,000 people gathered in the same square, and the police gassed them. And on Saturday, 700,000 people came together, and then the police fled.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain the tension that has clearly been mounting well before even these protests began in Istanbul.

KORAY ÇALIŞKAN: The triggering mechanism is—was to demolish that park, Gezi Park. However, this was the tip of the iceberg. The main problem was the increasing authoritarian regime of Islamist Erdogan government. First, we had the September 11th of Turkey. We lost a whole neighborhood of a district of Reyhanli, losing 51 people. And prime minister, instead of changing people’s attention to a different topic, decided to introduce a ban on wine and beer and other spirits in the country. And then, when people protested that, he said, "How come two drunk men can write a law, and what our religion, Islam, says cannot be a law?" And he was alluding to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder, the founding father of modern Turkey. You can be a Kemalist; you can be an anti-Kemalist—it doesn’t matter. There is some democracy in the country. You can raise your opinions. But he is the main hero of our only common story in this country. And when he looked down on Atatürk, it was a red line.

And afterwards, his mayor, from his own party, the mayor of Istanbul, said there won’t be any shopping mall or a residential center in that park. And his minister of culture, former minister of culture, said they are—they were not planning to build a mall on it. He said, "We are going to cut the trees, the park is going to go, and we’re going to bring a mall and a residential center in that city center." Everyone took to the streets. That’s what’s happened.

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