ISTANBUL — Turkey’s Islamic-led government is facing its biggest protests in years as demonstrators and police clashed Tuesday for the 12th straight day. Here’s a look behind the scenes:
Q: What’s going on in Turkey?
A: Demonstrators were camping out in a park in Istanbul’s landmark Taksim Square, protesting plans to cut down trees and redevelop the area when police went in May 31 to clear them out. That heavy-handed raid ignited protests that have since spread to dozens of Turkish cities. On Tuesday, police went into the square again, pulling down protesters’ makeshift barricades and chasing some with tear gas and water cannons.
Q: Is this just about trees — or something else?
A: Protesters are venting pent-up resentment against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has been in office for 10 years. Many secular Turks see him as an authoritarian figure trying to force his conservative religious Islamic views on them. Erdogan rejects those accusations. Still, he has spoken out against Caesarean births, said women should have at least three children, and backed laws to curb the sale of alcohol.
Q: What does Erdogan say?
A: The prime minister says the protests are being instigated by extremists who want to blacken Turkey’s international image and he has lost patience with them. “For those who want to continue with the incidents I say: ‘It’s over,”’ Erdogan said Tuesday. “Not only will we end the actions, we will be at the necks of the provocateurs and terrorists, and no one will get away with it.”
Q: Why should other nations care about Turkey?
A: Turkey, a largely Muslim nation that straddles Europe and Asia, is a stable democracy, a key U.S. ally and an important regional influence. It has taken in tens of thousands of Syrian refugees fleeing that country’s civil war.
Turkey’s economy is worth $1.3 trillion annually, almost as much as Canada’s. It also has a flourishing tourist industry that welcomed nearly 38 million visitors last year to ancient historical sites and ruins, wide sandy Mediterranean beaches and stunning regions of natural beauty.
Q: How is Turkey a key U.S. ally?
A: Turkey borders Iran, Iraq and Syria. The U.S. needs Turkey’s help to quell the violence in Syria, stabilize Iraq and stem Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Turkey also played a key role as the U.S. military went after Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Erdogan visited the White House last month for talks with President Barack Obama.
Q: What’s next? Will Turkey see an Arab Spring revolution?
A: Turkey holds a presidential election next year in which Erdogan — who will hit his term limit as prime minister — could run against the current president. Despite the protests, Erdogan is unlikely to fall. His support still appears to be strong.