Turkish PM says Gezi protests not linked to environmental concerns

Photo: Turkish PM says Gezi protests not linked to environmental concerns / Turkey

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan claimed on Thursday that participants of the Gezi Park protests of last summer did not have any concerns to protect the environment but instead harmed the environment in İstanbul and other provinces where anti-government protests were staged, Today's Zaman reported.

Speaking at the inauguration ceremony of a solid waste storage facility in Ankara, the prime minister said, in reference to participants of the Gezi Park protests: "Twelve or 13 trees were uprooted. And they kicked off events, claiming that an [environmental] massacre was being carried out [by the government]. No one can forget about the environmental massacre they [protesters] carried out [in various places]."

He also claimed that participants of the Gezi Park protests did more harm to the environment during the protests as they uprooted many trees with bulldozers at different locations to block the roads and attack the police.

The protests began on May 28, 2013, initially to oppose the urban development plan for Gezi Park next to Taksim Square in İstanbul. The protests were sparked by outrage as the protesters conducting a sit-in in the park were violently forced out by riot police. Subsequently, more demonstrations and clashes took place across Turkey protesting plenty of other concerns. The rallies brought together large groups of protesters who accused Prime Minister Erdoğan of exhibiting increasingly authoritarian tendencies.

The prime minister, in response, took a challenging, aggressive and insulting tone when he addressed the protesters. He described them as "a couple of looters," saying, "I wouldn't ask a couple of looters for permission [to go ahead with the Taksim project]."

Also on Thursday, Erdoğan said: "They [protesters] have no concerns for the environment. We know their purposes behind their attempts of provocation. But they are working in vain. We will proceed on our path with patience and determination." He did not elaborate on the alleged purposes of Gezi protesters.

During the course of last year's protests, the prime minister said an "interest rate lobby" and "international conspiracy groups" were behind the events. He accused these mysterious entities of speculating in the financial markets during the protests. He also claimed that some banks, which he did not name, were trying to bring down the stock exchange.

The prime minister also said Gezi protesters attacked the police with Molotov cocktails, destroyed pavements, smashed windows of nearby buildings, which he claimed did not have anything to do with one's love and respect for the environment. In addition, he asserted that his Justice and Development Party (AK Party) worked hard to preserve the country's natural beauty as well as increasing them in number and quality. "A city which consists solely of concrete, asphalt and metals is a mechanical city which lacks a spirit," he said, and added that the AK Party has a different perception of respect for the environment than those of European peoples. "We consider the environment and nature as a work and trust from God."

Erdoğan also recalled that Turkey ratified the Kyoto Protocol, a UN-led pact to combat global warming, in 2009 -- at a time when he said many developed countries were reluctant to ratify the protocol. "Similarly, we have adopted many environment-related pieces of legislation mentioned in the EU acquis. What we have done so far is important but not enough," he added.

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