(Bloomberg) -- Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan used the violent clashes between protesters and police in Paris to respond in kind to long-standing European criticism of his handling of political opposition at home.
“We will never approve of violent expression of demands for rights, but all opinions and demands can be made clear in democracies,” Erdogan said on Saturday. “Those who mocked our police force, accusing it of brutality, should now look at their own police force. Europe has failed the class on democracy, freedoms and human rights.”
The Turkish president was addressing supporters in Istanbul, the cultural heartland rocked five years ago by months of unrest that was met with a heavy-handed police response. At the time and since then, Erdogan has often been attacked by European leaders for being too harsh on dissent. Criticism of Erdogan strengthened after a failed coup in 2016 led to a huge number of arrests and the detention of many journalists, academics and opposition politicians for extended periods.
The French protests by the “Yellow Vests” in Paris have given the Turkish president a rare chance to take the high moral ground. “I watch what’s happening in European capitals with concern,” he said.
Erdogan’s message has a resonance among die-hard fans. A Haber, a staunchly pro-government news channel, has been broadcasting the Paris protests all day, portraying the events as a mixture of popular resentment toward social policies in France and as the outcome of a foreign conspiracy aimed at undermining France, much like the anti-government protests that began in Istanbul in the middle of 2013 and spread to the rest of the country.
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