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Turkey

Erdogan offers tear gas and talks in Turkey

The Turkish prime minister's inconsistency is confusing protesters - on one hand police brutality, on the other, the offer of a referendum. Some experts say it's because the government doesn't have a clue.

There's been no let-up for the demonstrators on Taksim Square in Istanbul since Tuesday morning (11.06.2013). Police stormed the square with tear gas and water cannon even though Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had said the day before that he was prepared to speak to the opposition.

But the police did not touch those who were in the park that had been the catalyst for the demonstrations. Through loudspeakers they announced, "Under no circumstances will the demonstrators in Gezi Park be attacked."

Riot police fires tear gas at protesters in Istanbul's Taksim square early June 12, 2013. Turkish riot police using tear gas and water cannon battled protesters for control of Istanbul's Taksim Square, hours after Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan demanded an immediate end to 10 days of demonstrations. Istanbul Governor Huseyin Avni Mutlu appeared on television, declaring that police operations would continue day and night until the square, focus of demonstrations against Erdogan, was cleared. REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis (TURKEY - Tags: CIVIL UNREST POLITICS)

The police clampdown came after several nights in which the police had not intervened in Taksim Square

They cleared flags and banners with communist and revolutionary symbols and slogans from all the buildings and monuments in the area, as well as the barricades that had been set up by demonstrators. On Tuesday night, there were clashes between police and protesters in which dozens were injured, and in spite of the police's promises, one teargas canister landed in the park.

Erdogan continues to follow his hard line, even though he has said he's prepared to talk. Many demonstrators are confused, saying they find the behavior of the police and the prime minister self-contradictory.

'It's not the right time for talks'

On Wednesday afternoon, Erdogan met as promised with eleven representatives of the protest movement, among them artists, students and academics. Following the meeting he said he would consider a referendum on the future of the park.

Other activists had been invited, but, following the police crackdown on Tuesday, they said they were no longer prepared to talk to Erdogan.

Protesters arrive in the late afternoon at Istanbul's Taksim square June 12, 2013. Turkey's president called on Wednesday for dialogue with legitimate demonstrators after riot police cleared the Istanbul square at the centre of almost two weeks of protest against Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan. REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis (TURKEY - Tags: CIVIL UNREST POLITICS)

After the clampdown, fewer demonstrators turned up to Taksim Square on Wednesday

Hilal Atici, Greenpeace campaign manager, said, "There can be no healthy dialogue in the current context of violence."

The journalist Hayko Bagdat agrees. "The police intervention on Tuesday was very violent, and many activists who were invited to the talks were confronted with tear gas," he told DW. Even as he was being phoned by the prime minister's office, he said he was unable to speak because of the tear gas. "From the start I thought it would be important to have a meeting with Erdogan," he said. "But no one can understand why the police needed to take such a hard line."

Inconsistencies in the leadership

Supporters of Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan wave flags, hold banners and shout slogans as they wait for his arrival at Esenboga Airport in Ankara June 9, 2013. Still by far the country's most popular politician, Erdogan has pressed ahead with government business as usual. REUTERS/Umit Bektas (TURKEY - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST)

Erdogan knows that he still has considerable support in the country

Unlike Erdogan, President Abdullah Gül continues to take a conciliatory line. On Wednesday, he repeated that he thought the police actions had been wrong, and he called for more dialogue with the demonstrators. Erdogan, on the other hand, continues to defend the police. From now on, he said, there would no more tolerance for protests. He would continue to push for the controversial construction project in the park.

He went on to say that such public assemblies were bad for Turkey's image, and has been backed in that by the governor of Istanbul, Hüseyn Ayni Mutlu, who on Tuesday evening called on everyone to leave the square - he said they should keep away until security had been restored.

Stubborn because clueless?

"On the one hand, Erdogan acts according to his tough rhetoric and calls his supporters out to demonstrate," journalist Cengiz Aktar told DW. "On the other hand, he arranges a meeting with eleven citizens to discuss the problems." The government doesn't know what it's doing, he concluded. "They've never had to face such a crisis - it's their first time."

Politicians, he said, are finding it very hard to understand the reasons for the protests: "If you don't understand the reasons, then naturally you can't find an appropriate solution."

The only hope is for Erdogan to change his mind, says Aktar, but he's not that type of man. But if he doesn't, Turkey could face an even bigger crisis and even bigger protests.

Bagdat also sees Erdogan's tough line as the main problem: he says it's clear that a climbdown by the government wouldn't be a step backward; on the contrary, it would be a move forward.

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