Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Monday on a visit to Morocco that the situation in his country is “now calming down” despite a fourth day of violent protests against his rule.
Erdogan, who flew to Morocco on Monday to begin an official four-day tour of the Maghreb despite the demonstrations in Turkey, accused political “dissidents” of inciting the protests. “The situation (in Turkey) is now calming down… On my return from this visit, the problems will be solved,” the premier told a news conference in Rabat.
“The Republican People’s Party and other dissidents have a hand in these events,” he said, speaking alongside his Moroccan counterpart Abdelilah Benkirane. The demonstrations in Turkey started on Friday over an unpopular plan to redevelop a park in central Istanbul but boiled over into general anti-government protests that have since spread to scores of cities across the country, after a heavy-handed initial response by the police.
At least one young protester has been killed since the unrest began, according to medics, and hundreds of people injured during clashes between police and protesters.
“In the beginning, the events were caused by the problem of trees. But then the protesters were pushed by people who failed to win the elections,” Erdogan said in Rabat. Asked about the more conciliatory comments by his ally President Abdullah Gul, who acknowledged the demonstrators’ right to protest and promised that their voice had been heard, Erdogan again struck an intransigent note.
“I don’t know what the president said, but for me, democracy comes from the ballot box.”
Gul had earlier said that “democracy does not only mean elections,” and called on “all my citizens to… state their objections and views in a peaceful way, as they have done.”
Erdogan’s Maghreb tour comes on the fourth straight day of protests that have turned into the biggest outburst of anger his Islamist-rooted government since it took power more than a decade ago.
The protesters have denounced Erdogan as a dictator and accused him of seeking to impose conservative Islamic values on Turkish society. Police fired tear gas Monday to disperse protestors massing near his Istanbul office, according to AFP reporters.
Thousands of demonstrators also gathered on Taksim Square, the symbolic heart of the nationwide protests, shouting slogans including “Tayyip, resign!” The Turkish premier was welcomed on arrival in Rabat, on the first leg of his north Africa visit, by Morocco’s Benkirane, who like Erdogan hails from a moderate Islamist party. He was accompanied by senior members of his cabinet, including Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and a large Turkish business delegation.
Ankara and Rabat signed a free trade agreement that came into force in 2006, and Erdogan hailed the rise in bilateral trade, which he said reached 1.5 billion dollars last year. He is expected to leave Morocco for Algeria on Tuesday morning before travelling to Tunisia on Wednesday and then back to Turkey on Thursday.