Simmering anger at Erdogan’s authoritarianism boils over in Turkey

June 3, 2013

(Protesters carry the Turkish flag and shout anti-government slogans during a demonstration at Gezi Park near Taksim Square in central Istanbul June 3, 2013. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov)

Turkey’s most violent riots in decades may have been started by the destruction of a small Istanbul park, but they have exploded in a show of defiance at what many see as the creeping authoritarianism of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan.

In power for more than a decade, Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted AK Party has increased its share of the vote in each of the past three elections, ushered in unprecedented political stability and overseen some of the fastest economic growth in Europe.

Now in his last term as prime minister, Erdogan is trying to leave his stamp on Turkey by recasting foreign policy, overhauling the constitution and even transforming the ancient Istanbul skyline.

But some, including former supporters, accuse him of growing increasingly authoritarian, muzzling the media, tightening his AK party’s grip on state institutions and putting religion at the centre of politics in violation of Turkey’s secular constitution.

“If it were up to the prime minister, I would be wearing a head scarf,” said Tugba Bitiktas, a 25-year-old unemployed university graduate, before she joined anti-government protests in central Istanbul late on Saturday.

“All this government worries about is rewarding its own. Those with a different voice are marginalised. That’s what I’m protesting,” she said, before donning swimming goggles and a surgical mask to stave off the effects of tear gas.

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