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Strike Sweeps Turkey as Gov't Vows Military Force
General strike follows weekend of violent clashes as protesters continue despite government threats
Turkey's deputy prime minister threatened Monday, following a weekend of heightened clashes, that the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) may be unleashed against protesters should the police fail to keep order.
"What is required of us is to stop if there is a protest against the law. Here is the police, if not enough gendarme, if not TSK," said Bulent Arinc in a televised interview with A Haber.
Arinc's statement comes after police on Saturday, under direction of Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, wielded water cannons and tear gas (some say laced with pepper spray) to disperse protesters from Istanbul's Gezi Park.
The protests began in late May after demonstrators took over the park following news that this last public green space was slated to be destroyed in place of a shopping center. Following a brutal police crack down, the protests spiraled into a growing demonstration against police brutality and a government which many say is increasingly authoritarian.
In a great show of solidarity with the ongoing demonstrations, five Turkish trade unions announced a nationwide strike on Monday.
Describing Erdogan's government as "despotic," two main union blocs say they plan to march to Istanbul's Taksim Square, which has been at the heart of more than two weeks of protests. It is the second time unions have called a strike to support the protest movement.
In the capital Ankara on Monday, "riot police backed by water cannon" threatened roughly 1,000 trade union workers to stop blocking a major avenue in the center of the city, the Guardian reports.
The workers were trying to march towards the central Kizilay district, waving flags and chanting slogans, as part of a national strike called by several labour groups in support of anti-government protests.
"Those of you on the streets must stop blocking the streets. Do not be provoked. The police will use force," police officers shouted through megaphones as several water cannon were positioned a few hundred metres away.
Over 800,000 workers are represented by the groups backing Monday's action including the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions as well as the unions for public sector workers, engineers and architects, doctors, and dentists.
In a statement released ahead of the strike, the unions said that Prime Minister Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party "has launched an offensive against the nation" after forcibly removing protesters from Gezi Park Saturday.
The Turkish Interior Minister Muammer Guler said the strike was "illegal" and warned of police action, Al Jazeera reports.