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Turkey may deploy army as protests rage

Turkey warned on Monday that it may bring in the army to help quell nationwide anti-government protests, after a weekend of heavy clashes between riot police and demonstrators sent tensions soaring.

The presence of soldiers on the streets would mark a major escalation of a crisis that has raged for nearly three weeks and has posed the biggest challenge yet to Prime Minister RecepTayyipErdogan’s Islamic-rooted government.

The announcement came as police continued to spray tear gas and water at clusters of demonstrators in Istanbul and the capital Ankara in battles that raged with fresh intensity, after the weekend eviction of protesters occupying Istanbul’s Gezi Park, the epicentre of the protest movement. Police ‘will use all their powers’ to end the unrest, deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said in a televised interview. ‘If this is not enough, we can even utilise the Turkish armed forces in cities.’

Turkey’s two main trade unions meanwhile began a nationwide strike against the police crackdown on Gezi Park demonstrators, a stoppage the government branded ‘illegal’.
 
The KESK and DISK trade unions, which together represent hundreds of thousands of workers, said they planned to hold demos in the late afternoon to call for the police violence to ‘end immediately’.

Turkey’s once all-powerful army, which staged four coups in 50 years, has stayed silent throughout the turmoil, making it the first time in the country’s modern history that it has not intervened in a major political crisis. Observers say the pro-secular military been steadily sidelined during Erdogan’s decade in power, though some members of the gendarmerie were stationed at key points in Istanbul at the weekend to stop protesters from trying to cross the Bosphorus bridge.

At a rally of more than 100,000 supporters of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) on Sunday, the premier insisted it was his ‘duty’ to order police to storm Gezi Park after protesters defied his warnings to clear out. ‘I said we were at an end. That it was unbearable. On Sunday the operation was carried out and it was cleaned up,’ a combative Erdogan told a sea of cheering loyalists. ‘It was my duty as prime minister.’ 
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