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Turkey's Prime Minister Needs to Take Responsibility

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After three weeks of turmoil in Turkey, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan still appears to be reluctant to resolve the political conflict in Turkey. Rather, he has further provoked the protesters by his continued dismissive and authoritarian statements.

Instead of engaging with the Taksim Solidarity Platform, the group of activists who originally organized a peaceful sit-in on May 28 to oppose the destruction of an urban park in Taksim Square, he met with people who have very little to do with the protests. While it looked as though he was doing something, in reality he was not.

The government's use of tear gas, pepper spray, water cannons, plastic bullets, chemicals mixed into water and brutality to disperse the demonstrations has made matters worse. Tear gas has been used on such a large scale that even entire neighbourhoods have become insufferable to the average bystander.

Equally alarming, Erdogan labelled protesters entering Gezi Park as terrorists. On the night of June 15, police raided the park and forcibly removed all the protesters and sealed off Taksim Square and Gezi Park. Hundreds of accounts circulated on Twitter reveal police were not letting the media in as they worked through the night to remove all traces of the protest.

Videos taken the same night show gangs of youth with sticks and knives shouting Allahu Ekber on the streets while chasing protesters. Moreover, they reveal police throwing tear gas in Divan Hotel, a luxury hotel in Taksim where injured protesters including children and women fled for shelter, and the German Hospital, which was helping injured protesters.

Following these events, Erdogan organized a rally in Istanbul to galvanize his support base while riot police continued to fire tear gas on thousands of protesters attempting to regroup in Taksim Square. Speaking to his supporters, Erdogan said Taksim Square would be off-limits for large gatherings and blamed "foreign powers" for undermining his authority. He went on to once again say that protesters drank in a mosque with their shoes on. Nothing could be further from the truth. The local Imam had already refuted these claims. In fact, the mosque temporarily served as an infirmary in the early days of the clashes.

While the protests were gradually winding down, one individual was determined to take a stand. On June 17, Erdem Gündüz, a performance artist, silently stood in one spot in Taksim Square staring at a flag for eight hours and thereby started what is now known as the standing man protest. What started with one man, quickly turned into thousands. However, this too was met with an excessive crackdown as police randomly arrested protesters for literally standing silently. Undeterred, protesters then went to Taksim Square on June 21 equipped with carnations to commemorate those who died during the demonstrations, but again they were met with riot police.

According to the Turkish Medical Association, at least five people have been killed, 11 have lost their eyes and over 7,500 people have been injured since the turmoil began.

Many journalists, lawyers, doctors and people using social media like Twitter have been detained. Turkey already detains more journalists than any other country. Even foreign reporters got their share of police action. A Russia Today reporter was hit with a water cannon on air. Closer to home, Canadian journalists Saša Petricic and Derek Stoffel were detained for 11 hours. Other foreign nationals, including tourists have also been targeted and otherwise caught in the crossfire, a recent example being Claudia Roth, co-chair of the German Green Party.

All this has only made the situation worse as outrage over Erdogan's authoritarian tendency and infringement on free speech, assembly and other rights is only growing. Not only has he repeatedly bent the truth to discredit the protesters, but he has also antagonized them.

During Erdogan's decade in power Turkey has continued to grow and has positioned itself as a regional leader, but Erdogan has gone too far in suppressing dissent and imposing his worldview. Due to the government's crackdown on the protesters Germany just proposed delaying the next round of European Union talks with Turkey.

This may not be a Turkish Spring, but the protests are good for Turkey's stagnant political atmosphere. While it is unknown what the next steps are for the protests, people across the country have been organizing open forums in parks, which have been attracting multi-ethnic groups who do not normally come together.

Erdogan might not be forced out of office because he still retains broad support, but his chances of being elected as the next president are at stake. If Erdogan wants to win reelection in eight months and secure his own legacy of uniting a broad spectrum under the AKP, he needs to take responsibility and apologize for trampling on democracy.

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