Turkey is introducing new law to combat what it considers to be its enemies, “provocateurs” in social media.
The government was shocked to its foundations at the wildfire spread of dissent across the nation, which stemmed from a peaceful protest by environmentalists in Gezi Park, Istanbul but rapidly took on wider political meaning when riot police acted in the most heavy-handed manner in the face of peaceful protest.
“Those who manipulate public opinion and guide demonstrations on Twitter and Facebook will be revealed,” said Muammer Guler, interior minister, asserting that social media users passed on false information to provoke the demonstrations.
“Of course we think there should be a new legal regulation,” he added.
Since the demonstrations began, a number of people have been detained in relation to alleged incitement on social media, although many of them have been released.
Following over 24 hours of police action that involved water cannon on a hospital entrance, repeatedly tear gassing a hotel which held protestors seeking refuge and carrying out mass arrests, Mr Guler also warned off striking unions against joining the protests.
Bulent Arinc, Turkey’s deputy prime minister, once seen as one of the more moderate voices in the government, on Monday warned that the government was prepared to deploy the army against the protesters. “If the police are not enough, there are the gendarmes; if the gendarmes are not enough, there are the armed forces,” he said on television.
Turkey deployed gendarmes against the protesters over the weekend, but although they are formally part of the armed forces, Mr Guler said on Monday they were acting under his instructions.
German chancellor, Angela Merkel, said she was “shocked” by the violence in Turkey and condemned the police response to protests, describing it as far too heavy-handed.
The government has linked the protests with terrorists, international media and an alleged “interest rate lobby” upset at the growth of the Turkish economy. But the protesters say they are angry with what they depict as the increasing authoritarianism of Mr Erdogan’s government.
Turkey’s MetroPoll organisation carried out a telephone opinion poll of 2,800 people and said that 50% of residents said that the government was interfering with their way of life.
Mr Guler added that the government would not permit any “demonstration or march in squares, streets or parks” that had not previously been agreed. He warned members of five unions striking in sympathy with the protesters: “We call on blue and white collar workers not to participate in demonstrations otherwise they bear its consequences.”
Mr Guler said 393 detainees were being questioned in relation to the protests. Andrew Gardner, an Amnesty International researcher, said that as far as he knew, as of Sunday night, most of those held could not be contacted.
There were also reports of increasing social tension, including sightings of men in civilian clothes carrying sticks confronting protesters in central Istanbul and an attack by pro-government supporters on protesters in Konya, which came to a halt after the police intervened