ERDOGAN LEAVING EUROPE FOREVER ? : Gezi Park protests spark crisis in beleaguered EU ties

14 June 2013 /TODAYSZAMAN.COM, İSTANBUL – Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan rebuffed criticism on Thursday from the European Union over the police crackdown on anti-government protests, further straining relations with the 27-nation bloc that are already in a stalemate due to the slow pace of Turkey’s accession process.

Addressing mayors of his Justice and Development Party (AK Party), Erdoğan declared that he does not recognize the resolution that the European Parliament was to endorse later in the day. Meeting in Strasbourg, European parliamentarians approved a resolution that criticized the Turkish government for the police crackdown on protests, but fell short of condemning Turkey.

He slammed the EU parliamentarians for ignoring police response to G-8 protesters in Britain and Greece, where police and protesters demonstrating against austerity measures have clashed repeatedly over the course of the country’s severe economic crisis. “What did the EU authorities do when people and the police confronted each other than giving Greece money?” he asked.

“How can you pass such a decision on Turkey, which isn’t even an EU member but a candidate? How dare you?” Erdoğan said to an applauding crowd. He pointed criticism in particular at two European officials, Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Füle and the leader of the Socialist group in the European Parliament, Hannes Swoboda, for their criticism of the government handling of the protests. “They have this guy in charge of enlargement. He cannot offer a slightest counter argument while with me, but then he tweets. Is this ethical?” he asked, in reference to Füle, who wrote on his Twitter account after attending a conference together with Erdoğan that he was “disappointed by the lost opportunity at the conference to reach out to those calling for respect and inclusive dialogue.”

As for Swoboda, Erdoğan accused the Socialist politician of criticizing his government to make up for slamming Turkey’s main opposition leader, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, a few weeks ago. Swoboda refused to meet Kılıçdaroğlu in Brussels when the Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader said the only difference between Erdoğan and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was in the “degree of authoritarianism.”

Hours before Erdoğan’s speech, Swoboda posted another tweet, saying that Erdoğan continues to threaten demonstrators. “But more violence is the last thing Turkey needs now. Dialogue, not riot police!” Swoboda said in the tweet.

‘Banana republic’

Four people, including a policeman, have been killed in the course of the two-week demonstrations, which first began in protest of plans to demolish Gezi Park in Taksim in downtown İstanbul. In its resolution, the European Parliament said it was “deeply concerned at the disproportionate and excessive use of force by Turkish police to break up peaceful and legitimate protests in Istanbul’s Gezi Park,” according to a statement from the European Parliament. The parliamentarians warn against the use of harsh measures against peaceful protesters and said Erdoğan must take a unifying and conciliatory position, it added. Those responsible for the police violence must be brought to justice, detained peaceful protesters  immediately released and the victims compensated, says the resolution. The resolution also welcomed a conciliatory statement by President Abdullah Gül and apologies to protesters by Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç while deploring “the unwillingness of the Turkish government and Mr. Erdoğan to take steps towards reconciliation, to apologize and to understand the reactions of a segment of the Turkish population.”

Going beyond protests, European parliamentarians also expressed concern about “the deterioration in press freedom, including acts of censorship and growing self-censorship within the Turkish media,” complaining that the mainstream media remained silent about the demonstrations. Addressing the European Parliament before the vote on the resolution, Füle repeated his criticism and said the government should pursue dialogue with demonstrators. “Any approach based on confrontation and division is a source of even more serious concern, not only for Turkish society, but also for the European Union,” he said.

He, however, also urged EU governments reluctant to see progress in the talks to allow the process to speed up. “Considering current events and the importance we all attach to supporting Turkey in its reforms, it would in particular be important to overcome the existing blockages on the EU side,” he said. Addressing the same session of the European Parliament, the EU foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, also urged Turkey to investigate cases of excessive force during the Istanbul demonstrations “swiftly and thoroughly.” “We have seen too many examples of excessive police force over the past two weeks — close range use of tear gas, water cannons, pepper spray, plastic bullets — against protesters who have been overwhelmingly peaceful,” she said. “Those responsible [must be] held accountable.”

Responding to European criticism, Egemen Bağış, the minister in charge of EU affairs, accused some European officials and politicians of making “irresponsible” statements and “talking nonsense” for the sake of media attention. “Some parliamentarians should understand that there is a price to pay for talking this comfortably and daringly about Turkey’s internal matters,” he said in a statement. “Turkey is not a banana republic.”

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu also rejected the European Parliament resolution, describing it as “unacceptable” for Turkey. He said no country could teach Turkey a democracy lesson, slamming the European parliamentarians for issuing the resolution that he branded as “one-sided.” Davutoğlu stressed the violence perpetrated by some protesters in the course of demonstrations and accused the resolution of not including that side of the events. He said the resolution portrayed a false image of Turkey “as if only the police used excessive force and that protesters were totally peaceful.”

He described Thursday’s resolution and reports of some international media as reflecting an “Orientalist” position. Davutoğlu said if there is any wrong implementation in response to the protests that are not in line with democratic standards, the necessary punitive steps would be taken. He reminded that the authorities have already started inspections and investigation regarding the excessive use of force while quelling the protests. The foreign minister said Turkey is a country that protects freedom of assembly and other freedoms of democracy and that the country won’t allow some circles to picture Turkey as a chaotic state.

Davutoğlu recalled the protests in Frankfurt on June 1, a day after clashes between protesters and police reached a peak in İstanbul and said police used water cannons and tear gas to disperse the crowd in an attempt to justify steps police took to clash the protesters.

The foreign minister stated that Turkey will not allow any international body to discuss issues between the Turkish government and its people and that the decision of the EP will be “sent back to them once they submit it to us.” Davutoğlu also dismissed debates that compared the Turkish protests to mass uprisings in Arab nations and said Turkey has everything that the Arabs demand such as democracy, freedoms and free and fair elections. He said Turkey’s democracy is as mature as British, German and French democracies and that protests there were caused as a result of the economic crisis. He said Turkish protests started based on environmental concerns, which he said take place in advanced societies.