Some 30,000 Turkish public service workers and small traders took to the streets of Istanbul Saturday, April 14, to protest the government's handling of an economic crisis that led to higher prices and layoffs. Much of their bitterness was directed at the IMF's role in sorting out Turkey's economic problems.
The crowd called on the government to resign, chanting "We're not the servants of the International Monetary Fund" and brandishing banners reading: "We want job security" and "Save workers and public sector employees, not bankrupt banks."
Economy Minister Kemal Dervis came in for special abuse. Dervis, a former World Bank Vice President, unveiled a package of long-awaited economic reforms to be submitted to the IMF for final approval in late April. The main emphasis of his package was on cutting public spending and further sacrifices from already disgruntled citizens.
Ankara was forced to float the Turkish lira on February 22 in the face of a financial shake-up, triggered by fears of political instability after a row between Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit and President Ahmet Necdet Sezer over the fight against corruption. The currency has so far lost about 47 percent of its value against the dollar, pushing prices up and causing significant job losses.
Massive demonstrations, unprecedented since the 1970s when Turkey was again stuck in the economic doldrums, have been sweeping the country. Munur Aydin, spokesman of the Work Platform, the unionists group organizing Saturday's rally, told the crowd: "Small traders have been destroyed while the shareholder class has done well for itself. The government should take the money off the corrupt to get the country out of its crisis."
A massive police presence was on standby in Istanbul, while demonstrations were banned in the capital Ankara. "I can't earn enough to feed my children because the value of the Turkish lira has dropped," said one city hall employee.
Similar demonstrations in several other Turkish cities passed off peacefully, but at the town of Gaziantep in the southeast of the country shops were looted by demonstrators, who also stoned police. The town's police chief Ali Kalkan told the Anatolia news agency that more than 50 protestors were detained after the disturbance.
Five trade union activists were arrested at Batman and a total of 112 people were held by police at Corum in the north of the country, Anatolia said. Ten people were detained in the western city of Eskisehir for disobeying police orders not to shout slogans, the report added.
Protests were banned in 20 locations due to fears of rioting and violent clashes, but the public workers' union Kesk said it would defy the ban. For more than two weeks, protests against the economic crisis shaking the country have become a daily occurrence.
On Wednesday, some 70,000 protesters rallying in central Ankara clashed with security forces injuring more than 200 and leading to a hundred arrests in the most violent rioting yet over the crisis. Officials in Istanbul have warned they would be particularly vigilant against any provocations that could spark similar confrontations. — (AFP, Istanbul)
© Agence France Presse 2001
© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)