Vicious police tactics have reclaimed Taksim Square and other places of protest, but at a high cost to Turkey’s reputation. THE protests that have convulsed Turkey since May 31st are gradually dying down. Calm has returned across most of the country. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the prime minister, seems firmly in control. To judge by the huge turnout at weekend rallies in Ankara and Istanbul of his Justice and Development (AK) party, his base is more loyal and adoring than ever.
But at what price? Mr Erdogan had been hailed as a visionary who transformed Turkey into a regional power and proved that political Islam and democracy were a perfectly workable mix. His international reputation is now badly dented. At home critics now fear him as well as disliking him. This seems to be what he wants.
In the past week police launched their most vicious attack on protesters encamped at Gezi Park, off Istanbul’s Taksim Square. With only hours left before Mr Erdogan’s rally in Istanbul hordes of riot police ripped out their tents, tore down their banners and doused them with tear gas. Hundreds fled to a nearby luxury hotel, only to be gassed there as well. According to the Turkish Medical Doctors Association, at least 7,000 protesters and more than a dozen journalists have been injured since the violence began. Five people have died; several are in a critical condition.
Meanwhile, a witch hunt for so-called provocateurs has begun. Hundreds of demonstrators have been detained. Human-rights groups say many have been jailed for such “crimes” as carrying food to the Gezi commune. Doctors who tended the wounded, lawyers who defended them and others whom Mr Erdogan denounces as part of a global conspiracy against his government have been nabbed. AK vigilantes also attacked an opposition-party office in Istanbul.
The interior minister, Muammer Guler, plans to clamp down on social media. The battle has moved online, with Mr Erdogan’s perceived enemies being inundated with menacing tweets. (Your correspondent has been called a “dirty Armenian” and “a slut”.) The screws will be further tightened under a bill to give the national spy agency sweeping powers to monitor citizens. Not that anyone would know: reporting on the bill has been banned.
Turkey’s wobbly relations with the European Union are getting worse. The justice minister, Saadullah Ergin, cancelled a trip to Brussels after the European Parliament made a rude statement about the violence. “I don’t recognise you,” roared a defiant Mr Erdogan of the EU. There had been plans to open a new “chapter” in membership talks with Turkey soon, breaking a three-year freeze. But Germany’s Angela Merkel, who said she was shocked by the treatment of protesters, is believed to oppose rewarding Mr Erdogan for his recent behaviour. Stefan Fule, the enlargement commissioner, disagrees: “Turkey needs more European engagement, not less.”
Despite the government’s brutality, many believe the protests show that Turkish democracy is taking root. Most protesters shunned violence, resorting instead to humour and imagination. Take the “standing man”, later identified as Erdem Gunduz, a choreographer, who stood silent and motionless for eight hours in Taksim Square, inspiring hundreds of men and women across Turkey—and in many other countries as well—to take root in the same way. Even Bulent Arinc, the deputy prime minister, called this novel form of protest “meaningful”, adding that “it ought to be encouraged.”
Previous crises have shown that Turks have a great capacity to forgive and forget. But what of Mr Erdogan’s Kurdish initiative? This is looking shakier by the day. Murat Karayilan, a commander of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which declared a ceasefire in April, has accused the government of “preparing for war.” He says drones have resumed reconnaissance flights over PKK camps in northern Iraq, adding that “I can tell the PKK to get ready for action.” Turkey’s moderate president, Abdullah Gul, has sought to lift the gloom by insisting that “reforms will be resumed.” Mr Karayilan says they must be carried out before parliament goes into recess at the end of July.