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VIDEO: Oklahomans With First-Hand Accounts Of Protests In Turkey

Monday marked the fourth day that riot police used tear gas in Istanbul and Ankara against protesters.

Demonstrations started Friday over plans to rip out trees and redevelop an area of Taksim Square in Istanbul, but quickly spread as urban, secular Turks vented frustration that prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is an authoritarian figure who wants to force his religious outlook on them.

KGOU's World Views host Suzette Grillot is in Ankara leading the University of Oklahoma College of International Studies "Journey to Turkey" program.

"We are half-a-mile away from the protests in Ankara – we can hear them from our hotel,” Grillot says.  “But interestingly, life continues as usual outside the protest areas with people shopping and eating at outdoor cafes with little interest in what is happening."


University of Oklahoma economist Firat Demir is participating in the program with Grillot. He writes in a piece published Saturday in Foreign Policy magazine that he's watched protestors linking arms to form human chains blocking the streets.

What struck me the most was the reaction from ordinary people. Rather than protesting the snarled traffic caused by the demonstrators, Ankarans passing by in their cars supported the protestors by honking and waving victory signs from their windows.

Despite nearly a decade of economic growth, Erdogan is a divisive figure as the Turkish government cracked down on journalists, and took a strong stance against Syria that some observers believe put Turkey's security at risk.

Social media has been awash with reports and videos of police abuse during the protests. Authorities have said police excesses would be investigated, but they appeared to continue unabated. Turkey's Human Rights Foundation says more than 1,000 protesters were subjected to "ill-treatment and torture" by police.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul took a more conciliatory line, calling the peaceful protests a democratic right. The term-limited Erdogan could run against Gul in next year's presidential election.

Despite images that resemble the Arab Spring protests that brought down leaders across the region, Erdogan is unlikely to fall. Turkey has a stable democracy and his backing by a silent majority still appears to be strong.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Brian Hardzinski is from Flower Mound, Texas and a graduate of the University of Oklahoma. He began his career at KGOU as a student intern, joining KGOU full time in 2009 as Operations and Public Service Announcement Director. He began regularly hosting Morning Edition in 2014, and became the station's first Digital News Editor in 2015-16. Brian’s work at KGOU has been honored by Public Radio News Directors Incorporated (PRNDI), the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters, the Oklahoma Associated Press Broadcasters, and local and regional chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists. Brian enjoys competing in triathlons, distance running, playing tennis, and entertaining his rambunctious Boston Terrier, Bucky.
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