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Erdogan's price to pay for protests

Erdogan's price to pay for protests
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There is calm and silence in some streets in Turkey. After three weeks the symbolic heartlands of the protesters in Istanbul have been evacuated but the defiance of the anti-government demonstrators cannot be moved. The nature of their protest has changed. They stand in silence but their demands remain constant.

“People only want their freedom. Freedom is the most precious thing that a man has to defend. If someone does not have freedom it means he does not have dignity,” explained one protester.

There was no iron fist wrapped in a velvet glove from the authorities. Water cannon and tear gas were employed after the campaign by environmentalists sparked protests over plans to build in Gezi Park.

As well as three dead, thousands were injured. Hundreds of arrests followed and demonstrations were banned.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan flew back from a trip to North Africa into the maelstrom of protests. Within days his intent was clear and his security forces moved. Two political rallies with flag waving crowds estimated at one million was a reminder of the fact that he is by far the country’s most popular politician.

Political analyst Dogu Ergil summed up the effect on the PM’s political standing. “Mr. Erdogan’s popularity has not changed much. It may be scarred a little bit, not with a challenge of legitimacy of his leadership but the way and the style of his leadership and what his government does in (the) case of crisis. I think the Turkish society, at least a part of it, is giving signals that they don’t want a ‘big brother,” he said.

How much has the prime minister listened to those signals and how deep do they run? Commentators believe a snap election now would still return Erdogan to power. His ruling Justice and Development Party’s majority though could suffer. The voters are divided.

“Ten years ago there was rubbish everywhere in Turkey. Turkey was not developed enough. Now, we are much better off, and we are developed both internationally and locally with our economy, and also with our international relations,” said one.

Another voter was emphatic on how her allegiances had changed: “I waded through tear gas going to work every day. My eyes burned. We did not deserve this. We voted for him. But now, does he deserve to be there? No, he doesn’t.”

Analysts believe the protests have increased tension between the European Union and Turkey while the prime minister’s ambitions to rework the Turkish constitution and emerge as a more powerful president have taken a hit.