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Turkey’s protesters are nothing like what the PM has described

Istanbul is bullish on democracy these days. The downtown Taksim Square is packed Saturday and getting even more crowded.

Demonstrators want to send a message to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan: they are tired of one-man rule. They elected him to be a prime minister, not a dictator, they say. (Of course, I've yet to find one person who actually voted for him, though 50 per cent of the overall population did.)

It's a peace-loving bunch – those who rioted last weekend are the exception. All that violence happened after the police attacked the initial group of protesters and hundreds of people ran to join the fray.

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People living in the hundreds of tents at the square say the violent rioters were provocateurs sent by the government to discredit them. I think they give the government too much credit to have done that so fast.

In any event, the protesters are pacifist and law-abiding. Much like the Muslim Brotherhood did in Cairo's Tahrir Square two years ago, they keep everyone in order, clean up after themselves, and run an extensive clinic and pharmacy operation with doctors and nurses in case anything does happen – which it might.

Mr. Erdogan and the other leaders of his Justice and Development Party (known by its Turkish acronym as AKP) are meeting this afternoon to decide what they should do.

On the one hand, if they do nothing and let the protests continue, they will look weak to their supporters. On the other, if they order the police to storm the protest, there will be lots of casualties and they will look tyrannical to many Turks and to the international community.

The best course is to negotiate, but that's not Mr. Erdogan's strong suit.

So we wait to see what happens.

"There's never been anything quite like this before," said Oktay Eksi, a member of Parliament for the opposition Republican Peoples' Party. "The mix of people – left and right, gay and straight, secular and Muslim – all united in one cause," he said as he toured the park, whose protection from development was the reason for the initial protest.

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Mr. Eksi, who had been the lead columnist for the important Hurriyet newspaper for 36 years, marveled at the depth of organization exhibited by the protesters. "It's clear they're here to stay," he said.

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About the Author
Global Affairs reporter

As Global Affairs Writer, Patrick Martin’s primary focus is on the turbulent Middle East, to which he travels regularly. He has twice been posted to the region – from 1991-95 and from 2008-12. More

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