June 18, 2013 6:54 pm

Erdogan attacks ‘traitors’ and foreign media for Turkey protests

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Erdem Gunduz stands in a silent protest at Taksim Square in Istanbul early June 18, 2013. Gunduz, a Turkish man, has staged an eight-hour silent vigil on Istanbul's Taksim Square, scene of violent clashes between police and anti-government protesters in recent weeks, inspiring hundreds of others to follow his lead. Gunduz said he wanted to take a stand against police stopping demonstrations near the square, Dogan news agency reported.©Reuters

Turkey’s prime minister stepped up his attacks on Tuesday on the “traitors” who have challenged his government, linking the recent protests to deadly car bomb attacks last month and accusing media organisations of having advance knowledge of the unrest.

It was not the first time Recep Tayyip Erdogan had made either claim but they have now become part of his regular discourse. He also suggested that births delivered by Caesarean section were part of a plot to reduce the population.

Mr Erdogan’s critics say he is indulging in conspiracy theories – a Turkish tradition – as he seeks to depict protesters against his alleged authoritarianism as terrorists and traitors. He says Turkey has become the target of an “interest rate lobby” that wants to suppress the country’s growth, as well as foreign powers and, to a large extent, the international media.

Addressing MPs from his ruling AK party, the prime minister said he would keep showing “the traitors inside [Turkey] and their partners outside” that the party retained overwhelming support. Three forthcoming rallies intended to illustrate the point have been given the title of “Let’s spoil the big game and write history”.

Mr Erdogan says the rallies are to prepare the way for local elections next year. Some government officials say a backlash against the protests has already mobilised the AK party’s pious conservative base.

As the prime minister spoke on Tuesday, his audience chanted “Mujaheed Erdogan”, using the term for a warrior for the Islamic faith.

Speaking on a day when police took dozens of protesters into custody, many from their homes, Mr Erdogan added: “We will strengthen our police forces in every way . . . Our police will not allow any lawlessness.” He said it was the police’s natural right to use teargas against protesters.

Mr Erdogan described the demonstrations as a “continuation of Reyhanli” – referring to car bomb blasts in a town near Turkey’s border with Syria that killed 52 people last month, and added: “Some media organisations, both domestic and international, were prepared for these organised protests.”

Many of the demonstrators have been peaceful, however. In one measure of their mainstream appeal, 40 per cent of 137 Turkish chief executives in a poll this week blamed the protests on Mr Erdogan’s tough stance and 31 per cent on a disproportionate police response.

At a separate speech on families, Mr Erdogan turned to the issue of caesarean sections, a topic he broached last year, because of what he said was its damaging effect on female fertility. “We are foiling the games intended to reduce the population of this nation,” he said in reference to caesareans, abortion and birth control.

Other ministers have followed the prime minister in making striking accusations. “Interest rates could fall to 2.5 per cent [but] the interest lobby rate doesn’t want rates to fall . . . and the foreign media is supporting this,” said Zafer Caglayan, economy minister, on Tuesday.

Ali Babacan, Turkey’s internationally respected deputy prime minister, blamed what he said was a mixture of disinformation, conspiracy and misreporting on the part of the international media in recent days. “There are many uncomfortable with Turkey’s 10 years of success . . . both inside and outside [the country],” he said.

“There is no state violence in Turkey,” said Egemen Bagis, Turkey’s EU minister, in a press release this week. “We know the national and international players in this plot.”

According to Sedat Ergin, a Turkish columnist, conspiracy theories are rooted in Turkish political culture. “When a Turkish politician faces a crisis there is always this tendency to put all the blame on foreigners,” Mr Ergin said, recalling that Bulent Ecevit, the last prime minister before the AKP came to power, lashed out at a supposed US plot in the final, flailing days of his rule. “In these sort of circumstances, politicians don’t want to face reality.”

But Turkey, once a relatively closed economy, has changed since Mr Ecevit left office in 2002; the country now depends on short-term capital from abroad to finance its large current account deficit.

Timothy Ash at Standard Bank acknowledged that market reaction to Mr Erdogan’s rhetoric – and the upheaval in Turkey – had been relatively limited so far, noting that state banks had stepped in to stabilise bond yields. But he cautioned that the government was undermining the credibility it had built up.

“One of the reasons the market has been so durable is that there has been this underlying faith in this administration and what they have done in the last decade,” he said. “But we have never seen this level of rhetoric . . . Of course, there is no such thing as the interest rate lobby.”

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