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Erdogan's supporters rally, dismissing Turkish protests as a 'big game' (+video)

Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan addressed hundreds of thousands of his cheering supporters in Istanbul saying, 'My patience has run out' with anti-government protests. 

By Staff writer, Correspondent / June 16, 2013

Turkish police firing tear gas battle anti-government protestors after recapturing Gezi Park near Taksim Square, after an absence of 17 days in the heart of Istanbul, Turkey, on Saturday.

Scott Peterson/Getty Images/The Christian Science Monitor

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Istanbul

Turkey’s largest city was divided on Sunday by competing shows of force, between Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who staged a mammoth rally of loyalists, and anti-government demonstrators, who clashed with police on Istanbul's streets once again to protest his rule.

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After 17 days of street violence that have posed an unprecedented challenge to Mr. Erdogan’s decade in power, he told a crowd of hundreds of thousands: “My patience has run out.”

Using language that belittled the protesters as disrespectful and irrelevant, Erdogan appeared to point the finger of blame at everyone except himself and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), citing instead the party's economic triumphs and democratic reforms. His supporters were similarly dismissive, repeatedly calling the protest movement centered on Taksim Square a "big game," a catch phrase that sums up Erdogan's belief that the demonstrations are an outside conspiracy fanned by foreign media. 

“I love Erdogan. Everything is perfect,” says Sedat Boyraz, a sailor among the sea of rally-goers waving Turkish and AKP flags. Few doubted Erdogan could muster massive crowds, having been elected three times with ever-increasing mandates, most recently with 50 percent of the vote in 2011.

“In Taksim it is a very big game.… All these groups in Taksim don’t want Turkey to be successful,” says Mr. Boyraz. “Taksim is not the reality in Turkey. The reality is here,” he says, pointing to the cheering Erdogan supporters behind him, and echoing the prime minister’s own words from the stage.

Erdogan has ordered protests to end: Police recaptured Taksim Square and dismantled makeshift barricades on June 7; then last night, amid clouds of tear gas, they evicted sit-in protesters camping in the adjacent Gezi Park.

Both actions sparked nights of running clashes, calls for a mass march on Taksim Square today, and a strike by five trade unions to begin on Monday. A protest that started as a small bid to save Gezi Park trees from a development project has spiraled into an assault on Erdogan’s abrasive leadership style, with charges of authoritarian rule.

“I am your servant, not your leader,” Erdogan declared. At times in his two hour speech he called on the crowd to cheer so that “they” – the protesters several miles away, attempting to gather in the center of town – would be afraid.

“The issue is not about the park, it is about Turkey,” said Erdogan, who has often used “us vs. them” language when stating that his loyalists far outnumber the protesters, most of whom are young, more Westernized, and more secular Turks. “They tried to instigate instability in this country but they will never succeed.”

Erdogan, protesters have met

Erdogan noted that he had met with twice with protest groups, but with little result.

“They say, ‘You are too tough.’ They say, ‘Dictator,’" said Erdogan. “What kind of a dictator is this, who met the Gezi Park occupiers and honest environmentalists? Is there such a dictator?"

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