LONDON — The U.N. Commissioner for Human Rights has strongly criticized Turkey's crackdown on anti-government protests, joining the European Union in condemning the police response. But Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has hit back, defending the security forces and questioning the democratic legitimacy of his European critics.
After weeks of anti-government demonstrations in cities across Turkey, there was a moment of quiet as demonstrators staged silent protests. In Istanbul's Taksim Square - where the protests began as an environmental campaign but swelled into anti-government demonstrations - the peace was short-lived.
Police detained dozens of demonstrators in the early hours of Tuesday.
In a statement the U.N. Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, described her concern over what she called an extremely heavy-handed police response to the three-week long protests and called for a transparent investigation.
Union of Turkish Bar Associations President Metin Feyzioglu told VOA on the phone from Ankara the U.N. intervention was welcome.
"Police were shooting peaceful protesters with tear gas shotguns and they took aim deliberately at persons. So they were using these tear gas shotguns as real shotguns," said Feyzioglu.
Prime Minister Erdogan has reacted angrily to his critics, telling a meeting of his AKP party Tuesday the police had an incontestable right to use tear gas on protesters.
"It is out of the question to show any tolerance to anybody or any organization that uses violence and uses it as an instrument from now on, my dear friends and my mighty nation," said Erdogan.
The government response is causing alarm beyond Turkey, says Fadi Hakura of policy institute Chatham House.
"In particular, the disproportionate security response to these protests. And I think that this realization has begun to diminish the positive reputation that the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan enjoyed up until now," said Hakura.
Germany has the biggest Turkish expat community in the world. German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle gave this reaction to the protests Monday.
"We would have hoped that the Turkish government had opted for dialogue. And so we criticize the decisions of the Turkish government," said Westerwelle.
The European Parliament passed a resolution expressing concern at the police response, and has canceled a planned visit by lawmakers this week to Turkey.
Turkey has long harbored ambitions to join the European Union, but the crackdown could prove a big setback politically and economically, says analyst Hakura.
Meanwhile, Erdogan vowed to increase police powers to deal with unrest, and the government is working on legislation to restrict the use of social media it blames for fueling the demonstrations.