Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan rejects criticism from EU



Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks to his supporters on June 7, 2013 in Istanbul, Turkey.


Uriel Sinai

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan called for an immediate end to nationwide protests sparked by a plan to build over Istanbul's Gezi Park Friday.

Arriving at Istanbul airport after a four-day North Africa tour, he described the protests as bordering on "illegal" and "vandalism," and showed no sign that he would back down from the plan to redevelop the green space. 

Standing alongside his wife and government ministers on an open-top bus, he reportedly told a crowd or around 1,000 supporters: "These protests that are bordering on illegality must come to an end as of now."

Erdogan blamed external elements for fueling the unrest. He promised, however, that accusations of the excessive use of police force during recent days of unrest would be investigated.

However, when European Union Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele reiterated that the Turkish police's use of force should be investigated, Erdogan did not take kindly to the statement.

Erdogan said similar protests in Europe would have been met with a harsher response, according to the BBC.

Erdogan and Fuele were speaking at a conference in Istanbul ahead of talks regarding Turkey's ambitions to join the EU.

Three people — two protesters and a policeman — have died, while thousands have been wounded, according to the Associated Press.

Protesters object to what they say is Erdogan's increasingly autocratic and arrogant leadership style.

More from GlobalPost: Turkey's protesters talk booze, sex and human rights (VIDEO)

On Friday the prime minister defended his leadership, telling a crowd of waiting supporters: "We stood strong, but we were never stubborn... We are together, we are unified, we are brothers. They say I am the prime minister of only 50 percent. It's not true. We have served the whole of the 76 million from the east to the west."

He was referring to his ruling Justice and Freedom Party's election win in 2011, when he took 50 percent of the vote.

To those supporters who chanted "Let us go, let's crush Taksim," he responded: "We have never been for building tension and polarisation, but we cannot applaud brutality."

He urged them to "go home" peacefully. "You have remained calm, mature and showed common sense. We're all going to go home from here," he said.

At the same time, however, thousands of anti-government protesters were rallying in Istanbul's Taksim Square.

Erdogan threw down the gauntlet by declaring at a news conference in Tunis on Thursday that the Gezi development would proceed as planned. That was despite his promise that "the AKP government will never try to raise tensions, polarize issues or get into conflict."

Prices on the Istanbul Stock Exchange began falling before he left Tunisia to return home on Friday, as investors took flight ahead of more unrest.