What’s going on in Turkey?

A protester wearing a gas mask, throws back a tear gas canister during clashes with riot police Tuesday in Istanbul's Taksim square.

The last spring evening of the year was first peaceful and fresh in Ankara. Groups of people were enjoying their meals and drinks at outdoor cafes and restaurants in the “Soho” of the Turkish capital when the first anti-government slogans of protesting groups were heard, followed by their visibility and clashes with the riot police. In a couple of minutes the whole neighborhood was covered by thick smoke of tear gas and pepper spray.

Anti-government riots have since May 31 become part of the daily life in Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir as well as scores of Anatolian provinces. What started as a protest against a government decision to uproot trees at a central park to make the green zone a shopping mall and a posh residence spiraled into protests of anger for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s autocratic rule.

Not quite the “Turkish Spring,” since Mr Erdogan is a legitimate, popularly elected leader. But increasing crowds are demanding that he steps back from his “I-have-the-majority-so-I-can-do-as-I-please” manners, including restrictions on secular life such as extreme regulations of alcohol sale.

Ten days after the first wave of demonstrations, four dead and nearly 4,000 injured, Turkey looks to be in a stalemate: The demonstrators threaten to step up their protest by all “peaceful means possible” while a defiant Mr Erdogan on June 9 threatened that “the protesters would get the response they deserved unless they stopped their vandalism.”

There are unconfirmed reports that Mr Erdogan’s young loyalists are preparing to take to the streets to fight the anti-government protesters. That would be a doomsday scenario for the only stable Muslim country in the Middle East. 

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