In Turkey, the crackdown on anti-government protesters has begun

The Turkish government’s spin doctors have linked the recent protests to cyber attacks and historical cases of secular dissent to silence anti-government demonstrators.

The latest joke among members of the Turkish protest movement is that they are “soldiers of the intergalactic coup lobby”. But it’s not just for fun; their humour is a response to what the Turkish government’s spin doctors are saying about the protesters, whose camps in Istanbul and elsewhere have been cleared forcibly by police in the past few weeks.

When the spin doctors claimed that Turkey was about to face a cyber attack, and that the anti-government demonstrations were linked to it, the protesters had no option but to mock their reasoning. But the government’s response is becoming increasingly sophisticated – and it’s not all so easy to laugh off.

“There are the names of nine illegal organisations in my criminal charge, Your Honour. Are you going to pick one for me or am I supposed to choose?” Those were the words of one young protester hauled before a court last month. Since protests began at the end of May – initially over the destruction of Gezi Park in Taksim Square but soon spreading from Istanbul to the rest of the country – thousands of people have been arrested. The charges vary from “joining illegal demonstrations” to “being a member of a terrorist organisation”. The justice system, which in Turkey is politicised, has increased the pressure on demonstrators.

On 22 June the government announced that prosecutors will link the protests to “Sledgehammer”, an alleged secularist coup plot that dates back to 2003 and has led since then to the prosecution of thousands of army personnel. Linking the 2013 protests to this case – even though both secularists and islamists were on the streets to voice their discontent with the Erdogan government – is a way to discredit the movement. Similarly politicised cases have been used to silence secular politicians and Kurdish activists over the past ten years.

While some protesters are brought before judges, others face physical violence. Since the protest camps were cleared, activists have been meeting in public parks in Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir in the evenings to discuss what they have been through and how the action should continue.

Recently three of these forums have been attacked by young, government-supporting thugs who then took to Twitter to declare that they were proud of what they had done. They operate with sticks and knives, and preferably in dark alleys. Somehow, the police seem unable to stop them. Elsewhere, vocal critics of the government, including myself, have been singled out by establishment newspapers, or by supporters of the governing Justice and Development (AK) Party, as “provocateurs”.

Clumsy indictments and the intergalactic coup lobby can be regarded as a joke. But as the days pass, we’re not sure how much longer we’ll be able to carry on laughing.

Ece Temelkuran is a novelist and political commentator based in Istanbul

Demonstrators with flares in the port city of Izmir, western Turkey. Photograph: Reuters

This article first appeared in the 08 July 2013 issue of the New Statesman, The world takes sides

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The French terror attack could benefit Marine Le Pen

A run-off between Le Pen and a scandal-ridden François Fillon suddenly looks worryingly plausible.

Good morning. Here in Britain, the election campaign rumbles on, but has been thrown into sharp relief by a terrorist attack which killed a policeman and left two injured, on Champs-Élysées, for which Islamic State have claimed responsibility. The attacker was shot by police.

The major presidential campaigns have suspended their campaigns for a day as a mark of respect. But inevitably, the question will be asked: what impact will this have on the campaign?

A consistent pattern of French politics in recent times has been that high-profile acts of criminality have boosted Marine Le Pen by a few points in the polls. That goes not only for terror attacks by jihadists but terror attacks by far-right activists, too, as well as heists and riots.

The big question is whether those jumps are caused by differential abstention in polling respondents - that is, a high-profile crime occurs, National Front supporters get excited and the rest decline to answer polls - or if the effect has real world implications.

If the latter is the case, that means that Le Pen's recent slide in the polls may be reversed when France votes in the first round on Sunday, getting her through to the run-off.

But the more important thing may be what it does to the identity of her rival. François Fillon, of the mainstream right, has also tended to benefit in the polls after these incidents. That Closer is reporting that he had an affair with an aide may finally dent his support with conservative Catholics, whose votes are keeping him in contention.

But if not, a run-off between Marine Le Pen and a scandal-ridden François Fillon - the weakest opponent of the three she could face according to the polls - suddenly looks worryingly plausible.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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