Two of Turkey’s main trade unions started on Monday a nationwide strike after police cleared protests from Istanbul protest park.
The KESK and DISK trade unions, who together represent hundreds of thousands of workers, called a one-day stoppage to object to the police violence against anti-government protesters, and said they planned to hold demos in the late afternoon.
“Our demand is for police violence to end immediately”, KESK spokesman Baki Cinar told AFP, adding that the unions would be joined by striking engineers, dentists and doctors.
Turkish Interior Minister Muammer Guler condemned the stoppage as “illegal” and warned strikers not to take to the streets, as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan defended his crackdown on Gezi Park, the epicenter of the protest movement.
Riot police were still firing volleys of tear gas and water at pockets of demonstrators in Istanbul and the capital Ankara early on Monday, after a weekend of clashes sparked by the eviction of protesters occupying Gezi Park.
Nearly 600 people were arrested in the scuffles on Sunday alone, according to the Ankara and Istanbul bar associations.
The weekend violence has intensified a crisis that poses the biggest challenge yet to Erdogan’s decade-long rule.
At a rally of more than 100,000 supporters of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) on Sunday, the premier insisted it was his “duty” to order police to storm Gezi Park after protesters defied his warnings to clear out.
“I said we were at an end. That it was unbearable. Yesterday the operation was carried out and it was cleaned up,” a combative Erdogan told a sea of flag-waving loyalists. “It was my duty as prime minister”.
Erdogan’s words were met with roaring approval from the audience, the largest crowd to assemble since the crisis began. Many chanted: “The people are here, where are the looters?”, using Erdogan’s description of the demonstrators.
At the same time, riot police were fighting running battles with thousands of protesters determined to regroup after being ousted from Gezi Park and the adjoining Taksim Square, a mere 10 kilometers (six miles) away from the AKP rally.
Turkey’s political turmoil first began when a peaceful sit-in to save Gezi Park’s 600 trees from being razed prompted a brutal police response on May 31, spiralling into countrywide demonstrations against Erdogan.
The crisis has claimed four lives and injured nearly 7,500 people so far, according to the Turkish Medical Association.
Source: Al Manar