Italy calls Turkey protests a ‘serious test’ in EU bid

Italy's Foreign Minister Emma Bonino said the mass anti-government protests in Turkey are "the first serious test" for the country in its bid to join the European Union, and that the excessive use of force against protesters was unacceptable.

Italy calls Turkey protests a 'serious test' in EU bid
Protesters clash with riot police at Taksim square in Istanbul on June 11th. Photo: Aris Messinis/AFP

"The Turkish government is in the process of sitting a maturity test in the squares and the streets. It is probably the first serious test for the endurance of democracy in Turkey and its accession to Europe," she told parliament.

"Some think that Turkey had passed that test thanks to its dynamic economy but much more is needed," she said, calling for dialogue between government and the protesters.

Its efforts to join the EU formally started in 2005 but have stalled in recent years due over its human rights record and the row over Cyprus, whose northern third is occupied by Turkey.

Italy has said it firmly believes in Turkey's European prospects and the "beneficial effects" EU membership could have on the predominantly Muslim but constitutionally secular nation.

"Italy wants a fully democratic Turkey in the heart of Europe," Bonino said.

"Turkey must decide whether it wants to become a mature democracy. The disproportionate use of force and the arrest of 20 lawyers are unacceptable."

Riot police forced demonstrators out of Istanbul's Taksim Square after a night of running battles following Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's vow of a "no tolerance" approach to the protests.

"Taksim square is not Tahrir square (in Egypt) and the Turks are not Arabs," said Bonino, adding that the protests have "wrongly been compared to the Arab Spring" but "bring to mind the protests we have seen in our own capitals and on Wall Street".

The nationwide unrest first erupted after police cracked down on May 31 on a campaign to save an Istanbul park from redevelopment, spiralling into mass displays of anger against Erdogan.

Four people, including a policeman, have died in the unrest and nearly 5,000 demonstrators have been injured.

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Italy cracks down on Covid green pass protests

After one protest against Italy’s health pass sparked a Covid outbreak and others affected businesses and cultural sites, the government has ordered a clampdown.

Anti-green pass protestors walk past restaurants in Milan.
Anti-green pass protestors walk past restaurants in Milan on October 16th, 2021. Photo: Piero CRUCIATTI/AFP

Protests against Italy’s Covid-19 health certificate, called the ‘green pass’, will be restricted from this weekend under orders from Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese.

New measures will prevent protestors from entering shopping areas or historic centres and mean demonstrations are limited to sit-ins, rather than marches or rallies, Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera reported on Tuesday.

EXPLAINED: Where do you now need to show a Covid green pass in Italy?

The ministry stated that the new rules are intended to “guarantee the rights of those who disagree, while protecting economic activity and the health of citizens”.

The rules also allow authorities to require protestors to wear masks at outdoor rallies.

The clampdown follows lobbying from Confcommercio, Italy’s retail confederation, which said the repeated disruption from demonstrations was impacting trade on weekends.

Confcommercio president Carlo Sangalli told Corriere della Sera: “Saturdays alone are worth more than 25 percent of weekly turnover for the retail and restaurant sectors, so the damage caused is very clear. Meanwhile we’re still feeling the consequences of the pandemic and risk a new surge.”

The number of protests against Italy’s health pass has risen in recent weeks following the expansion of the pass requirement to all workplaces.

The demonstrations, which tend to be relatively small but frequent and often disruptive, have now become a regular sight in central Milan, Rome and beyond.

Anti-green pass protestors in Turin’s Piazza Porta Palazzo on September 11th, 2021. Photo: Tino ROMANO/ANSA /AFP

The largest such protest, held in Rome on October 8th, attracted around 10,000 people. It later descended into violence as protestors affiliated with neo-fascist groups attacked buildings and clashed with police.

READ ALSO: Riots put Italian government under pressure to ban neo-fascist groups

Rome authorities rerouted all subsequent protest marches away from “sensitive” buildings such as government offices and trade union headquarters.

Protestors taking part in these marches have also been widely condemned for regularly comparing themselves to holocaust victims.

Protestors take part in an anti-green pass demonstration in Rome called by far-right Forza Nuova activists. Photo: Andreas SOLARO / AFP

Another large protest called by dock workers in the northern port city of Trieste attracted an estimated 7,000 people at its height and continued for several days, causing disruption to businesses using the port.

A coronavirus outbreak linked to the port protest is so far known to have resulted in 200 positive Covid cases and five hospitalisations, and made Trieste the centre of a surge in cases that risks new restrictions being applied to the surrounding Friuli-Venezia-Giulia region.

The city’s newly elected centre-right mayor Roberto Dipiazza subsequently banned protests in the central square, Piazza Unità d’Italia, saying they had “damaged the image of the city and threaten to take us backwards,” news agency Ansa reports, while the local prefecture said protestors had “launched objects” at protected cultural sites and were endangering the city’s heritage.