How Tayyip Erdogan blew the response to Turkey's riots

The government is paying a heavy price for its crackdown on what started as a peaceful vigil to save trees

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan
(Image credit: AP Photo)

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has blamed an outbreak of protests against his government on "looters" and "bums" and extremists who, he says, are "arm-in-arm with terrorism." He also accused demonstrators of stirring up unrest with "lies" spread on Twitter. But activists and political experts say his defiant reaction is what transformed a peaceful vigil to save a park's sycamore trees into five days of broadening and increasingly volatile protests across the country.

The protests erupted after police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse crowds — initially just 50 or so people — that gathered in one of Istanbul's last remaining green spaces to protest plans to remove the square's trees and put buildings in their place. The government quickly withdrew the riot police, but on Monday night a protester was killed at a rally. On Tuesday, Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc, who took charge after Erdogan left on a visit to North Africa on Monday, apologized for the crackdown, calling it excessive and just plain wrong. The government has also promised an investigation — but many argue that the damage is done.

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Harold Maass, The Week US

Harold Maass is a contributing editor at The Week. He has been writing for The Week since the 2001 debut of the U.S. print edition and served as editor of when it launched in 2008. Harold started his career as a newspaper reporter in South Florida and Haiti. He has previously worked for a variety of news outlets, including The Miami Herald, ABC News and Fox News, and for several years wrote a daily roundup of financial news for The Week and Yahoo Finance.