DAVID GREENE, HOST:
This is Morning Edition from NPR News. Good morning. I'm David Greene. After weeks of protest, security forces in Turkey carried out a violent crackdown yesterday, arresting hundreds of people in Istanbul and other cities around the country. Riot police tear gassed protesters who were trying to return to Istanbul's Taksim Square Sunday.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan addressed hundreds of thousands of cheering supporters at a pro-government rally nearby. The conservative Turkish leader attacked the international media and those supporting demonstrations as part of what he called a foreign plot to damage Turkey's image. We have more now from NPR's Peter Kenyon who joins us from Istanbul. Peter, good morning.
PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Morning, David.
GREENE: So remind us what happened here. After police cleared out protesters out of Taksim Square Saturday night, government officials said they were not going to allow people to come back. How have they managed this so far?
KENYON: Well, so far with a very large police presence and security forces backing them up. And increasingly, we're noticing what appear to be civilian supporters of the ruling party joining them. I first noticed this Saturday night at Gezi Park was being cleared. A line of police moved up toward the park and suddenly, a group of men came out of the side and started cheering and urging them on. And this has been seen more and more since then.
We spoke with people in three neighborhoods last night and they said they were watching groups of men traveling with the police, chasing demonstrators. Protesters did try to get back to Gezi Park but the police kept it locked down quite tightly. The Turkish Bar Association says 350 arrested in Istanbul, at least 100 in the capital Ankara. No official confirmation of those numbers yet. Gezi Park itself remains very quiet. The heavy equipment is gone and yesterday landscaping crews were in there planting flowers.
GREENE: And tell us more now, if you can, Peter, about what we're hearing from Prime Minister Erdogan. He's calling this a foreign plot?
KENYON: It was visually a very impressive speech in Istanbul yesterday. Hundreds of thousands of people. We spoke to a few of them and they said of course we support Erdogan. We remember when he came here in the '90s as mayor and he cleaned up the city. It's so much better now. Why wouldn't we support him? The prime minister himself said it was his duty to clear Gezi Park.
He said he tried to find a peaceful solution. The protesters had rejected it. But he did spend a lot of time whipping up the crowd against what he called foreign conspirators. He singled out three international media outlets by name, and he said they and Western governments were trying to make Turkey look bad. Some journalists reported being roughed up.
Erdogan blamed bankers manipulating interest rates. He blamed lawyers representing detainees. He blamed doctors who tried to treat them. The blamed a hotel that allowed demonstrators to use the lobby. And he said the troublemakers were all related to unnamed terror organizations. And he said the main opposition party, the CHP, was trying to overthrow the government.
After that speech, as the crowd spilled back into the streets, that's when we started to get the reports of these civilian men joining the police.
GREENE: If we have the prime minister and his government taking more of a hard line, which of course seems to be stoking more resentment and more defiance, does anyone see a way out of this?
KENYON: There is growing unease within Erdogan's own party about the way this is going but no public effort to change direction. Nor is there much effort on the protesters' part to change direction. They say they'll continue massing if they can. The media say five trade unions are now on strike. Economists are watching the stock market. There are huge projects at stake here in the next six years for Turkey and Erdogan himself wants to become president, which will require political cooperation.
He wants a new constitution. He's got a very delicate operation going with the Kurdish minority, trying to bring peace to that long-running problem. So the stakes are very high and a lot of people are wondering how the government's going to act next.
GREENE: All right. NPR's Peter Kenyon in Istanbul, updating us on the crackdown on protests in Turkey. Peter, thanks so much.
KENYON: You're welcome, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.