Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday rejected claims that he is a “dictator” and pointed to the opposition and social media as being responsible for the protests against his government in recent days.
The comments came as thousands returned to Istanbul’s Taksim square, where the largest anti-government protests in years are taking place.
“If they call someone who has served the people a ‘dictator,’ I have nothing to say,” Erdogan said in a speech on Sunday. “My only concern has been to serve my country.”
In another speech delivered an hour later, Erdogan said, “I am not the master of the people. Dictatorship does not run in my blood or in my character. I am the servant of the people.”
“There is now a menace which is called Twitter,” Erdogan said, as many Turks turned to social media outlets for information on the unrest in the country. “The best examples of lies can be found there. To me, social media is the worst menace to society.”
The demonstrations were ignited by a violent police crackdown on a peaceful sit-in to prevent the uprooting of trees at Taksim Square and have since spread around the country.
At least two people have been killed in the clashes between police and rioters in Turkey, the Amnesty International organization said. Over 1,000 have been injured.
Erdogan admitted on the weekend that police may have used tear gas too liberally, and that the matter would be investigated. However, he condemned protesters as well, accusing them of causing unnecessary tension and stating that they do not represent the majority of Turkish citizens.
Erdogan called the protests “ideological” and manipulated by an opposition “unable to beat [the government] at the ballot box.”