Late on Wednesday, a man in Istanbul was shot dead and a police
officer in eastern Turkey suffered a fatal heart attack. Erdogan
said demonstrators had "burned and destroyed" offices of his ruling
AK Party in Istanbul.
"You were supposed to be democrats, pro-freedom. These are
charlatans, they have nothing to do with democracy, they do not
believe in the ballot box," Erdogan said at an opening ceremony for
an underground train line in the capital Ankara.
"They are saying let's cause chaos and maybe we'll get a result. But
my brothers in Ankara and Turkey will give the necessary answer on
March 30 (in the local polls)," he added.
Erdogan portrays the clashes, and a corruption scandal dogging his
government, as part of an anti-government plot embracing foreign and
domestic forces. He accuses Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, a former
ally, of using influence in police and judiciary to engineer the
graft inquiry to undermine him.
Gulen denies such intrigues. The cleric's supporters accuse Erdogan
of increasingly authoritarian conduct compromising liberal reforms
of the first years of his 11 years in office.
Riot police clashed with demonstrators in several Turkish cities on
Wednesday as mourners buried a teenager, wounded in the protests
last June, whose death this week after nine months in a coma sparked
a fresh wave of disturbances.
On Wednesday night, police fired water cannon, tear gas and rubber
pellets on a major Istanbul avenue to stop tens of thousands of
protesters reaching the central Taksim square. There were similar
scenes in the center of Ankara and in the Aegean coastal city of
Officers in riot gear chased groups of protesters into side streets
late into the night in Istanbul.
DEATHS AND INJURIES
An unidentified assailant shot dead a 22-year-old in Istanbul's
Beyoglu district late on Wednesday after a verbal dispute between
two groups turned into a fight, the provincial governor's office
said in a statement.
It said one man suffered a gunshot wound to the hand and another a
wound to the stomach during the gunfire. They were not in a critical
In the eastern province of Tunceli, which also saw protests on
Wednesday, a police officer died after suffering a heart attack,
which the local governor's office said occurred when protesters
threw stones at his vehicle.
The local elections will be the first real test of Erdogan's
popularity since the Summer riots, the unfolding of the graft
scandal and the power struggle with Gulen. Opinion polls suggest the
prime minister, whose AK Party dominates the electoral map, remains
fiercely popular, especially in the conservative Anatolian
heartlands after a decade of rising prosperity.
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The death on Tuesday of 15-year-old Berkin Elvan, who got caught up
in street battles in Istanbul between police and protesters last
June while going to buy bread for his family, has hit a raw nerve
with many Turks.
Views of Wednesday's events highlighted the polarized political
atmosphere in Turkey. While Erdogan attacked anti-democratic forces
"setting fire to the streets", main opposition CHP leader Kemal
Kilicdaroglu held him responsible for the death of Elvan, whom he
described as a "martyr of democracy".
"I urge all our citizens, please don't respond to the provocation.
We will seek our rights through the democratic path," he told
reporters after visiting Elvan's family.
In a written statement on Wednesday, Kilicdaroglu had accused
Erdogan of a "dangerous provocation", saying the prime minister saw
"dragging Turkey into great disorder and an atmosphere of chaos as
his only path to salvation".
Speaking to Hurriyet Daily News about those comments, he said he had
heard rumors that a fake assassination attempt could be staged
against Erdogan to shore up his support.
At Wednesday's funeral, crowds chanting "Tayyip! Killer!" held up
photos of Elvan earlier in the day as his coffin, draped in red and
covered in flowers, was carried through the streets of Istanbul's
working class Okmeydani district for burial.
Those attending the protests said Erdogan's silence on Elvan's
death, in contrast to President Abdullah Gul and other public
figures who issued messages of condolence, highlighted how out of
touch he was with a large segment of Turkish society.
(Reporting by Tulay Karadeniz in Ankara, Ferit Demir in Tunceli,
Humeyra Pamuk; writing by Daren Butler Nick Tattersall; editing by
Gareth Jones and Ralph Boulton)
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