By Ece Toksabay
ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Peaceful anti-government protests that shook Turkey in the summer were a sign of the country's democratic maturity but they took a wrong turn by becoming violent, President Abdullah Gul said on Tuesday.
Gul, whose conciliatory approach contrasts sharply with the more abrasive style of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, urged Turks to show respect for other points of view and to work together to strengthen Turkey's democracy.
"Some extremist groups attempted to exploit the peaceful protests by using violence and vandalism. The protests that started with good intentions took on the wrong characteristics in time that disrupted public order," Gul told parliament.
"We must, as a nation, learn the necessary lessons from these incidents and must display sensitivity to understand the feelings of our young people through detailed sociological studies," he said.
The summer protests presented one of the biggest challenges to Erdogan's rule since his Islamist-rooted AK Party first came to power a decade ago, spiraling out of a demonstration in late May against plans to redevelop an Istanbul park into a broader show of defiance against his perceived authoritarianism.
Four protesters and a police officer died as demonstrators, some armed with rocks, fireworks and Molotov cocktails, clashed with police firing tear gas, water cannon and pepper spray in outbreaks of violence around the country.
Erdogan, who remains Turkey's most popular politician despite the protests, branded the protesters as "riff-raff" and coup plotters bent on wrecking the country's political and economic stability.
He mobilized hundreds of thousands of his supporters at rallies meant as a show of strength and said the public would give their answer to the protesters at the ballot box.
Sporadic protests continued in September, just six months before local elections, the start of a voting cycle which also includes a presidential election next August - in which Erdogan is expected to run - and parliamentary polls in 2015.
"We should leave these incidents (protests) behind and look ahead to strengthen our democracy's pluralist and participatory elements," Gul told lawmakers.
Erdogan and Gul were founding members of the AK Party in 2001 and are longtime allies, but their relations have appeared strained at times over the past year, not least over the police crackdown on the anti-government protests.
Under Turkey's constitution, the prime minister and government hold most power while the president is a mainly ceremonial figure, though he must also approve laws passed by parliament and makes key appointments in the judiciary and education.
In his speech, Gul praised a new package of political reforms from Erdogan's government ranging from changes to the electoral system to broadening language rights. Kurdish politicians and rebels have dismissed the package as inadequate.
(Editing by Gareth Jones)
- Politics & Government
- Unrest, Conflicts & War
- Abdullah Gul