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Fireworks And Tear Gas In Taksim Square; Turkish Protesters Driven Out With Force

Aired June 11, 2013 - 16:30   ET


ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Earlier in the day we spoke to some of them. They did not seem as if that was really going to happen. It's very difficult to imagine that given everything that has transpired today how those negotiations are actually going to take place. Because the more violent these demonstrations become, the more polarized both sides end up being.

And you can really tell that the demonstrators here are dug in for the long haul. There are tents all over the place, people organizing themselves. There's a medical section in the back there. You can see it's been roped off. And then on the other side of me here is one of the main roads that leads up to Taksim Square itself. That's one of the areas where the standoff is happening between the riot police, and earlier in the night we were seeing demonstrators there throwing rocks at them at them as well. But people here do believe that the situation is going to get worse before it even begins to get better.

TAPPER: Well, I hope they're wrong. Arwa Damon, thank you so much. Stay safe. We will continue to monitor events on the ground through Nick Paton Walsh and then Arwa when she gets her camera recharged.

We're looking at live pictures of police firing tear gas into the crowd of protesters. They say not peaceful protesters. They say that violent protesters have hijacked what was a peaceful protest.

Here to talk more about these protest, David Rothkopf, the CEO and editor-at-large of "Foreign Policy" magazine. And also Bulent Aliriza. He established the Turkey Project for the Center for Strategic and International Studies. They both join me here in the studio live. We're going to continue to watch the pictures of what's going on.

Bulent, I want to start with you. One of the things that's so interesting about these protests is they've been horrible for a Turkish economy that has really had a lot to crow about in the last decade, even if protesters take issue with how Prime Minister Erdogan has governed. He has been -- his reign has been good for the economy of Turkey. The per capita gross national income and the GDP have tripled over the past decade.

But since these protests began, the Turkish lira has dropped to an 18- month low, and the Istanbul stock market dropped 11 percent. How much of the repression we're seeing from the police here is because leaders are worried about the Turkish economy, do you think?

BULENT ALIRIZA, DIRECTOR, TURKEY PROJECT AT CSIS: Actually, the stock market feel more than that.

TAPPER: More than 11 percent, ok.

ALIRIZA: It fell down from a high of 93,000 to 75,00, which I think is close to almost 18, 19 percent. This government came into power in 2002 after massive financial crisis, which basically undercut the previous government. And he came in with a very investment-friendly attitude. And it's been averaging a growth of over five percent.

But the kind of images that we're seeing are bound to scare off investors, and Turkey is a great country of great potential. This country has done very well. But the kind of situation what we now have where the government is perceived to be at war with rioters right in the middle of Istanbul cannot be good for the kind of investment future that Turkey had in mind.

TAPPER: And David, where does Prime Minister Erdogan go from here? These protests are, as was just said, horrible for the image of Turkey.

DAVID ROTHKOPF, CEO & EDITOR-AT-LARGE, FOREIGN POLICY MAGAZINE: Well, I think there are several factors at work here which he's got to worry about. One of them is the protests. He's going to try to stop them in the near term, but underlying them are political divisions within the country. Christiane was talking about it earlier. He's been in power for a while, and it's likely to continue to fragment a bit just as time goes by.

Secondly, if these do shake people's confidence in the economy and the economy gets worse, that's likely to drive more protests. Remember in Tahrir Square in Libya as well and Tunisia, the Arab Spring had its birth in economic crises and job crises.

One place in Turkey you see the job crises and the economic crises the worst is in southern Turkey, where the spillover from the Syria conflict is pushing refugees into the region, is making the place less safe. There's shelling going on in the region. And that's going to get worse. And right now, you look at Syria and you think this crisis could go on for years and years. If it goes on for years and confidence in the south grows lower, if Erdogan continues to get pressured for his support of the rebels in Syria, you could see a gradual decline, growing pressure on him and events like the one we're seeing here more frequent going forward.

TAPPER: We're going to take a quick break. We're going to keep you both here to continue to weigh in and explain what exactly we're watching in Istanbul when we come back from our breaking news coverage of violent protests and clashes with police in Istanbul, Turkey.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. You're looking at live pictures from Taksim Square in Istanbul, Turkey. Our people they on the ground say they fear it's going to get worse before it gets better as riot police are using force to drive protesters out of Taksim Square. I want to get to our Nick Paton Walsh, who has been reporting in and out of a gas mask for us, as police continue to fire tear gas. Nick, I know that the light is low where you are because you don't want to alert anyone around there as to where you are and where you're broadcasting from. But tell us what you're seeing.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Jake, behind me down this left-hand side that runs down Gezi Park, I'm just seeing the protesters have erected a barricade there. There are behind it in some number. There is an excavator, part of the construction equipment here on fire.

We've just heard quite a lot of shouting; I think that's coming from that particular area. There seeming to be a lot of police activity. They are no longer charging at protesters or using their armored water cannons. They are masked on the square behind me, four or five I can see. And that's occasionally punctuated with tear gas rounds being fired. That's the cracks you can hear behind me there.

There seems to be some police over there firing in the general direction of the protests. That occasionally wafts into our live position here. We're still looking to see how the police strategy unfolds to take control of the area. As the mayor of Istanbul has pledged, they will continue operations until there are small groups of protesters I can see down some of these side streets. But predominantly they're dissipated here, there are masks behind those barricades. And we're really looking now I think to see how they will try and instigate control.

There is this uncertainty about whether Gezi Park is safe. Suggestions it is but we've also seen police at an earlier point today move straight in there. We saw distinctive white helmets inside the tree line. We've been pretty clear tear gas either intentionally or unintentionally ended up inside Gezi Park, too. So real fears here for the safety of those who want to persist in these protests.

And above all, the question I think people are asking is what is the end game here? Prime Minister Erdogan has clearly authorized a substantial police operation here. It's perhaps ahead of negotiations tomorrow. They seem highly unlikely. You just have to ask yourself with pictures like this, minute by minute, damaging Turkey's previously breakaway economy, what are they going to do to put control back in this vital part of the city?

TAPPER: All right, Nick Paton Walsh from Taksim Square, Istanbul, Turkey. We'll come back to you in a little bit here in the studio.

With me two experts on the protests. David Rothkopf is a CEO and editor-at-large of "Foreign Policy Magazine." And Bulent Aliriza, he established the Turkey Project for the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Bulent, I know you have to go, so I want to get one or two more questions in for you before you do. If I'm President Obama and I'm watching this unfold after this multi-year attempt to form a very strong alliance with Prime Minister Erdogan. 2009 President Obama went to Turkey; I was on that trip as a member of the White House press corps. What is going through his mind right now? How are U.S.-Turkish relations now?

ALIRIZA: Well, when this kind of thing happens with an ally, obviously it is difficult for the White House. But their concern is accentuated by two factors. One is that President Obama hosted that Prime Minister Erdogan exactly four weeks ago. He had a meeting with him in the morning and then he had a private dinner with him. In between, they have a joint press conference. So, having been that close to Prime Minister Erdogan, it's difficult for President Obama to decide exactly how he's going to deal with the situation. Has he put in a call?

Secondly, Turkey is being portrayed as a model for the Arab countries in spite of the Arab Spring. At this point, you cannot really argue Turkey is a model for anybody. No doubt President Obama and his advisers are thinking about this now.

TAPPER: Bulent, how did the meeting go between Prime Minister Erdogan and President Obama? What was the most contentious issue they discussed?

ALIRIZA: Syria. Prime Erdogan came, hoping that he would be able to persuade President Obama to get engaged in the Syrian issue, to reach the joint goal that they both (INAUDIBLE), which is the ouster of President Assad. My understanding is that President Obama refrained from giving any kind of commitment to giving the kind of support to the opposition that the prime minister wanted. And the prime minister left basically empty handed on the most issue on their agenda.

TAPPER: David?

ROTHKOPF: I actually think it was a little worse than that. I think, you know, Obama and Erdogan starred out close. This was, you know, often cited by the White House as one of his best international relationships. He put a lot of chips onto Erdogan and to Turkey.

This doesn't help. But it is actually exacerbated in Syria, not by the lack of U.S. support, but when Erdogan was here, the Obama team actually chided them for their support of the extreme elements in Syria, and there's a growing rift between the U.S. and the Turks and countries like Qatar, who are seeking a somewhat more extremist outcome or at least supporting more extremist forces in Syria.

So now, Obama looks at this model relationship, and he's got an authoritarian, problems with the press, problems with the economy. This kind of thing -- problems with Syria. It's not the picture that existed even a couple months ago.

TAPPER: We need to take a quick break, but we'll be right back with CNN's live coverage of this wild and horrifying night in Istanbul, Turkey.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome back to THE LEAD. We're watching an historic and horrifying night. Chaos live in Istanbul's Taksim Square. Riot police are driving protesters out with salvos of tear gas.

I want to go back to our senior international correspondent Arwa Damon is on the phone at the scene. Arwa, as you and I discussed earlier, the prime minister's office said they would not send police into Gezi Park, but they are sending police right to the edge to fire tear gas into the crowd. What are you seeing?

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): That's right. Actually we have move to the other side of the park from where we were speaking to you last to the across the street where right now I can see the tear gas filling the sky. This is one of the many front lines that has evolved and developed around Taksim Square and Gezi Park itself.

It's quite an interesting dynamic though because there is this spirit of solidarity and people move around with these bottles that white like peppermint. There's something else that's been interesting, too, a lot of people coming up to us and saying we're actually apolitical. This is the first time we've come out and had this strong of an opinion about our government.

We don't normally get involved in politics. A lot of them are young professionals, I.T. professionals, engineers. They work by day and they come here by night. As we've been saying over and over, this isn't about the conservation of a park anymore. This has erupted into something much, much, much bigger than that.

I don't know if you can hear these chants in the background, but that is taking place along the fringe of the park as people who are perched up on the park look down the road below where some of those that nick have been able to see from the vantage point they've been reporting from, they are really trying to move and push their way upwards.

This is a multi-layered demonstration we're seeing taking police here. You have the Gezi Park demonstrators, the tree huggers as they call themselves. The ones who are here, they wanted to conserve the park. They tried to stay away from the confrontation with the riot police, but they've ended up drawn into it because they were sprayed by the tear gas. And then you have other people fuelled by anger or --

TAPPER: Arwa Damon, we seemed to be having some technical problems with your phone right now. We're going to take a very quick break and try to fix that and come back with our coverage of this historic and horrifying night in Istanbul, Turkey right after this.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. We're drawing close to midnight in Istanbul, Turkey where we're watching these tense moments unfold live. Riot police keeping protesters out of Taksim Square with an enormous show of force tonight.

Here to talk more about the ongoing protests, David Rothkopf, he is the CEO and editor-at-large of "Foreign Policy" magazine, and Bulent Aliriza, he established the Turkey Project for the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Gentlemen, before we turn this over to Wolf Blitzer in a few minutes, I want to get some last closing thoughts from you, Bulent. What world does Prime Minister Erdogan find himself in right now? What are the choices he faces?

BULENT ALIRIZA, DIRECTOR, TURKEY PROJECT, CSIS: Well, it's a cliche, but he is really facing the biggest challenge of his decade long stint as the prime minister of Turkey. The current situation is untenable. He's used force, but obviously not sufficient to drive all the demonstrators out of the square and the park.

He has two choices and only two choices, either he uses even more force and push everybody out of not just the square, but also out of the park, but all the implications of that, including additional fatalities and people will draw the analogy between Tahrir Square and Taksim in spite of all differences concerned.

In Egypt, it backs down and says that the pressure that I've been insisting on implementing will not go ahead with and there he loses face. The prime minister is a gifted man. He has many gifts, otherwise he would not have been able to rule Turkey for ten years, win three elections, but he does not have the gift of compromise, seemingly does not have that gift. Without that we're in for tumultuous days.

TAPPER: You say additional fatalities. I think a lot of people watching may not know there have been four fatalities. Who were the four?

ALIRIZA: There were three demonstrators and a policeman involved in a skirmish with demonstrators. But if the police were to use additional force, there are certain to be additional fatalities.

TAPPER: David, we're told your microphone is not working. We're going to get a microphone on you. Your last thought right now?

DAVID ROTHKOPF, CEO AND EDITOR-AT-LARGE, "FOREIGN POLICY" MAGAZINE: Well, I think in the short term the odds are with Erdogan. The protesters are divided. There's a group of more placid, peaceful type and a group of leftists. They don't have clear leadership among them or politically. The economic forces, the big money, is going to be behind Erdogan and he holds all the reins of power, but in the long term the trends that are here may actually cut against him over time.

TAPPER: All right, David Rothkopf and Bulent Aliriza, thank you so much. That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. Wolf Blitzer will have much more on the events in Istanbul next in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks for watching.