Furious Turks protest government handling of economic crisis

Published April 5th, 2001 - 02:00 GMT

Thousands of furious shopkeepers marched in Ankara and truck drivers blocked a road in southern Turkey Wednesday, April 4, to protest the government's handling of an economic crisis that has sent prices soaring. 


In a sign of popular frustration over the worsening economic situation, one desperate shopkeeper threw his cash register down in front of Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit as he was leaving his Ankara office. 


During the later march by several thousand shopkeepers and workers through Ankara's furniture-making district towards Ecevit's offices, protestors waved their fists and shouted: "The government should resign" and "The shopkeepers are finished." 


Riot police, equipped with armored vehicles and machineguns, stopped the crowd before it could reach the downtown area and Ecevit's office. 


Witnesses said police hit several people with truncheons, while the demonstrators hurled coins and lighters at the officers and the head of the Ankara Trade Chamber, who arrived at the scene in a bid at mediation. 


The march ended without further incidents as the protestors agreed to send a delegation to meet with Ecevit. But their fury was far from cooled down. 


"Our businesses are dead. We cannot sustain our families, we cannot pay our taxes," said Mehmet Eser, 34. "I ran a workshop for 11 years. Now I am an employee at somebody else's shop," Eser told AFP


Hasan, a jobless father of four, pointed to a large hole in his shoe and said that "both employees and employers are devastated" by the financial crisis which struck the country in February after a public row between Ecevit and President President Ahmet Necdet Sezer over the government's handling of corruption. “This government, which is concerned only about their pockets and armchairs, should definitely go," Hasan said. 


His bitterness reflected widespread criticism that insufficient government efforts against corruption, particularly in the fraud-ravaged banking sector, had a major part in the crisis. 


Ismail Temucin, 27, said he was "virtually starving" on his salary of 97 million Turkish lira (some $95) a month, but still considered himself lucky to have a job. 


Watching the protestors from his cab, taxi driver Oguz Catal complained about a 20 percent hike on gasoline prices the government announced overnight. "Nearly two thirds of the money I earn goes for gasoline. I work 20 hours a day and still this is not enough for the household," he said. 


In the Mediterranean city of Mersin, several dozen truck drivers blocked a main highway to protest the hike, prompting the deployment of riot police, Anatolia news agency reported. The blockade ended without incident after negotiations with police. 


A serious financial crisis led the government to float the Turkish lira on February 22, disrupting an IMF-backed disinflation program in place since December 1999. The currency has so far lost more than a third of its value against the dollar. 


Ankara is now outlining a revised economic program, while desperately lobbying for foreign aid of $10-$12 billion. But the IMF and foreign creditors have made it clear they could help only after Turkey drafts a credible reform plan, which officials say will be ready by mid-April. 


Last year Ankara dragged its feet on some reforms in the original IMF-backed program, triggering a massive flight of foreign capital in November and an ensuing liquidity crunch, which was alleviated with emergency IMF aid. 


The government's subsequent failure to launch reforms in earnest and an unprecedented row between Ecevit and Sezer over corruption in February led to a complete breakdown of confidence. — (AFP, Ankara) 


by Sibel Utku  


© Agence France Presse 2001

© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)

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