Riot and plainclothes police officers detain people to prevent possible demonstrations in Ankara yesterday.
ISTANBUL: Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemned anti-government protesters yesterday as “charlatans” bent on sowing chaos in the run-up to local elections after Turkey’s worst civil unrest since mass protests last summer.
Two people died during protests on Wednesday, including a police officer in eastern Turkey who suffered a heart attack and a 22-year-old man shot in Istanbul in an apparent stand-off with a group of anti-government protesters.
Several thousand people gathered for Burakcan Karamanoglu’s funeral in Istanbul’s conservative Kasimpasa district, where Erdogan grew up and still commands fervent loyalty, his death becoming a rallying point for government supporters.
“Kasimpasa don’t sleep! Stand up for your martyr! Break the hands of those who touch the police,” they shouted as Karamanoglu’s coffin, wrapped in the red-and-white Turkish flag, was carried through the streets to a nearby mosque.
Erdogan said Karamanoglu had been killed by the DHKP-C, a far-left group behind a suicide bombing at the US embassy last year as well as attacks on Turkish police stations. Turkey and its Western allies consider the DHKP-C a terrorist group. The Istanbul governor’s office said the assailant was unknown.
A website affiliated to the group claimed responsibility, saying one “civilian fascist” who supported Erdogan’s AK Party had been killed in a firefight with “revolutionaries”.
Karamanoglu’s funeral provided a sharp contrast to the burial on Wednesday in an adjacent neighbourhood of 15-year-old Berkin Elvan, wounded by a police gas canister last June.
His death after nine months in a coma ignited fresh anti-government demonstrations, with tens of thousands of people taking to the streets of Istanbul and other cities chanting slogans including “Tayyip! Killer!” Riot police later intervened with water cannon, tear gas and rubber pellets.
Yesterday, streets which bore the brunt of the unrest were quieter, although police in the capital Ankara fired bursts of water cannon to clear small pockets of protesters and detained at least 15 people, mostly students, a witness said.
Erdogan, who is campaigning around the country for municipal elections on March 30, dismissed the anti-government unrest as a plot to undermine him and said protesters had “burned and destroyed” offices of his ruling AK Party in Istanbul.
“You were supposed to be democrats, pro-freedom. These are charlatans, they have nothing to do with democracy, they do not believe in the ballot box,” he said at an opening ceremony for an underground train line in Ankara.
“They are saying ‘let’s cause chaos and maybe we’ll get a result’. But my brothers in Ankara and Turkey will give the necessary answer on March 30,” he said.
Erdogan portrays the clashes, and also a corruption scandal dogging him and his inner circle, as part of an anti-government plot by foreign and domestic forces. He accuses Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, a former ally, of using influence in police and judiciary to engineer the graft inquiry to undermine him.
The US-based cleric denies the claims. His supporters accuse Erdogan of increasingly authoritarian conduct they say is undermining liberal reforms passed during his 11 years in power.
Main opposition CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu held Erdogan responsible for the death of Elvan, who he described as a “martyr of democracy”.
In a written statement on Wednesday, Kilicdaroglu accused Erdogan of a “dangerous provocation”, saying he was “dragging Turkey into great disorder and an atmosphere of chaos as his only path to salvation”.
Kilicdaroglu told the Hurriyet Daily News he had seen evidence suggesting a fake assassination attempt might be staged against Erdogan to shore up his support.