Police retreated from more violent clashes with protestors in Istanbul's Taksim Square on Saturday as the protest over a public park's fate turned into something bigger: a protest against Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan.
For a minute there, thing were starting to look very ugly. Early Saturday, police used tear gas and water cannons on protestors who were chanting "shoulder to shoulder against fascism" and "government resign" while walking down a busy street towards Taksim Square. What started as a peaceful protest against Erdogan's plan to build an Ottoman-era military barracks, that would eventually hold a shopping mall, on the site of the last public green space in Istanbul, Gezi Park, erupted into violence on Friday. One Turkish newspaper reported over 100 people were arrested, with dozens more injured, as Turkish police faced criticism for being too aggressive with the protestors. But as the clashes continued Saturday, it seems to have evolved into a greater movement against Erdogan's decade-long reign, which many view like an almost-authoritarian regime. When the protestors wouldn't budge, the police eventually pulled back and let people demonstrate.
But Erdogan is refusing to see this as some kind of late-blossoming Arab Spring style protest that eventually leads to his ouster. "If this is about holding meetings, if this is a social movement, where they gather 20, I will get up and gather 200,000 people. Where they gather 100,000, I will bring together one million from my party," Erdogan said during a televised speech on Saturday. He announced the government would investigate whether the police may have used excessive force when dealing with the anti-government protestors. But otherwise, he would not take these protests as a statement against his government. "Every four years we hold elections and this nation makes its choice ... Those who have a problem with government's policies can express their opinions within the framework of law and democracy," he said. Erdogan announced police would monitor the park every day until the protestors disperse, or they expel them, whichever comes first. Taksim Square "cannot be an area where extremists are running wild," he said.