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Women at the forefront of Turkish protests

Updated: 2013-06-11 08:55
( China Daily)

They are young, urban and well educated, and for the past week they have been sleeping in an Istanbul park: meet the women on the frontline of Turkey's mass anti-government protests.

"We are the women Erdogan would like to see staying at home," said actress Sevi Algan, 37, referring to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who protesters say is forcing his conservative, Islamic values on the mainly Muslim but staunchly secular nation.

Women at the forefront of Turkish protests

A woman shouts slogans as protesters gather at Taksim Square in Istanbul on Sunday. Protest organizers called for a demonstration to keep up pressure on the government to sack those responsible for a violent police crackdown. Osman Orsal / Reuters

Many of the women happily admit they are accidental activists who never would have guessed two weeks ago that they would be pitching a tent in the epicenter of nationwide civil unrest.

But now these women, many of them students, lawyers, teachers and office workers, easily account for half of the thousands of demonstrators in Gezi Park and nearby Taksim Square - and they have taken to their new routine with gusto.

They spend hours under the park's sycamore trees debating their cause, take part in all-night singing and dancing sessions and, when necessary, stand shoulder to shoulder with football fans on guard against police action outside the park's police-free zone.

The protest began after a small campaign to save the park's 600 trees from being razed sparked a police crackdown with tear gas and water cannon on May 31, quickly spiraling into widespread anger against the government. The unrest has injured over 4,000 people and killed three across the country.

Many of the female protesters, large groups of whom describe themselves as liberal and secular, say the time has come to stand up for their rights in the face of creeping infringements on their freedoms by Erdogan's Justice and Development Party.

Erdogan has won three successive elections, gaining almost 50 percent of the vote in 2011 after presiding over steady economic growth. But critics accuse him of increasing authoritarianism and polarizing the country.

Her list of grievances include the premier's proposals to limit abortion rights, tighten the rules for the morning-after pill and ban the late-night sale of alcohol.

Erdogan has also sparked outrage for declaring that every woman in Turkey should have three children.

"Would he like more children like us?" said Ozlem Altiok, an unemployed former flight attendant, as she chatted with friends in Gezi Park.

In the park, where free food, yoga lessons and concerts are on offer, clusters of feminists and gay rights activists are camped out next to veil-wearing anti-capitalist Muslims, the site's festive atmosphere and a sense of camaraderie easily outweighing any ideological differences.

Agence France-Presse