BOSTON (CBS/AP) – About 500 people demonstrated at the Statehouse on Saturday in support of pro-democracy protesters in Turkey.
Thousands of Turks took to the streets this week to protest against what they view as a steady erosion of secular government in Turkey. The government has tried to contain the protests with police and security forces.
“This is real and this is happening,” said Rachel Cooper of Boston. “That’s one of the reasons the protesters were there — to raise awareness.”
Cooper said social media including Facebook was used to organize the protest.
In a scene reminiscent of the Arab Spring, thousands of people on Saturday flooded Istanbul’s main square after a crackdown on an anti-government protest turned city streets into a battlefield clouded by tear gas.
Though he offered some concessions to demonstrators on Saturday, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan remained largely defiant in the face of the biggest popular challenge to his power in a decade in office, insisting the protests are undemocratic and illegitimate.
Public anger has flared among urban and secular Turks after police violently broke up an anti-development sit-in in the landmark Taksim Square, with protests spreading to dozens of other cities as demonstrators denounced what they see as Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian style.
As the furious protests entered their second day, police fired tear gas and turned on water cannons at angry demonstrators, some of whom threw rocks and bottles on their march toward Taksim. In an area normally abuzz with tourists, stores were shuttered and protesters fled into luxury hotels for shelter. There were hundreds of arrests and injured.
Turkish authorities later removed barricades and allowed thousands of demonstrators into the square in an effort to calm tension. Sounding defiant even as he bowed to protesters and pulled back police, Erdogan promised to stick to the government’s redevelopment plans — which protesters fear will remove one of the few green spaces in the sprawling city.
He called the protesters a “minority” that was trying to forcefully impose demands and challenged the opposition that he could easily summon a million people for a government rally.
“I am not claiming that a government that has received the majority of the votes has limitless powers … and can do whatever it wants,” Erdogan said in a televised speech. “Just as the majority cannot impose its will on the minority, the minority cannot impose its will on the majority.”
Under Erdogan’s leadership, Turkey has boosted economic growth and raised its international profile, taking a central role in post-Arab Spring politics in the region. Though widely supported by rural and conservative religious Muslims, he remains a divisive figure in mainly secular circles and is criticized for his often abrasive style.
Hundreds of people were injured in the protests, including four people who permanently lost their eyesight after being hit by gas canisters or plastic bullets, Huseyin Demirdizen of Turkey’s Doctors’ Association told The Associated Press. He said at least two people injured in the protests are in life-threatening condition.
Interior Minister Muammer Guler said more than 900 people were detained during the protests but some of them were released after questioning. He did not say how many were still in custody. The protest had spread to 48 cities, he added.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.