U.S. concerned about reports of excessive force in Turkey
WASHINGTON -- U.S. officials have “serious concerns” about reports of excessive force by Turkish police against protesters, the White House said Monday, as a country lauded as a model for democracy in the Muslim world faces its most violent street protests in decades.
“The United States supports full freedom of expression and assembly, including the right to peaceful protest,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters. “We believe that the vast majority of the protesters have been peaceful, law-abiding, ordinary citizens exercising their rights.”
Carney’s comments came as thousands of protesters filled Taksim Square in central Istanbul for a fourth consecutive day Monday. Police peppered them with heavy doses of tear gas, leaving a caustic cloud over the iconic patch of downtown.
There were also reports of running battles between police and protesters in Ankara, the capital, and the coastal city of Izmir, along with demonstrations in other cities.
Behind the hostilities lies what appears to be widespread dissatisfaction with the policies of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, including Islamist-inspired restrictions on alcohol sales, curbs on the press, pro-business development schemes and aggressive support for the rebels in neighboring Syria.
Erdogan, a three-time prime minister, has dismissed the protesters as militants and hooligans, declaring that he was “barely holding back” his supporters from taking to the streets.
More than 2,300 people have been injured during the clashes, according to the Turkish Doctors Union, a much higher casualty count than the government has provided. Late Sunday, a demonstrator was killed when a taxi drove into a crowd assembled in Istanbul’s Umraniye district, the union and Turkish press reports said.
The government said Sunday that 173 people were injured in the violence, including 115 police officers.
Carney urged both authorities and demonstrators to use restraint, and called for an investigation into the violence. He did not lay blame directly on Erdogan or his government. The Obama administration has cultivated Erdogan as a special ally and liaison to the Middle East.
“All democracies have issues that they need to work through. And we would expect the government to work through this in a way that respects the rights of their citizens,” Carney said.
Hennessey reported from Washington and McDonnell from Beirut. Special correspondent Glen Johnson contributed from Istanbul, Turkey.
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