Five things to understand about Turkey's protests

Three weeks after mass anti-government protests began sweeping across Turkey, the nation is tensely calm and an enduring resolution remains elusive. The unrest is unlikely to become a “Turkish Spring,” but it is testing democracy in Turkey.

1. Why did the protests grow so big?

Osman Orsal/Reuters
Protesters use a large Turkish flag to protect themselves from water released by riot police to disperse the crowd during an antigovernment protest at Taksim Square in central Istanbul May 31.

Nationwide protests grew out of a violent police response on May 31 to a peaceful sit-in to protect Istanbul’s Gezi Park from commercial development. The excessive force used by police ignited a widespread demonstration that quickly evolved into a broader protest against what activists say is Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s authoritarian style of leadership.

In 2011, Mr. Erdogan won reelection with 50 percent of the vote. Since then he and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) have pursued a number of conservative policies, such as restricting the marketing and sale of alcohol and increased Internet censorship. Those outside AKP accuse the prime minister of doing away with consensus building, and ignoring the other half of the country.

Erdogan remains dismissive of the protesters and their demands, blaming the unrest largely on outside instigators. His unwillingness to compromise combined with the extreme police response has tapped into frustrations that have been stewing under the surface for several years and fomented massive nationwide demonstrations.

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