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Turkish Opposition Leader Gives Interior Minister Tear Gas Canister Filled With Flowers

A member of the main opposition party in Turkey turned an empty tear gas canister into a vase with flowers in it and presented it the Turkish Interior minister on Tuesday in an effort to persuade Turkish officials to scale back its harsh crackdown on protesters in Istanbul and throughout the country.

Thousands joined a small protest in Istanbul’s Taksim Square last week demonstrating against a plan to replace one of the remaining parks in the city with a shopping mall. Police responded with force, attempting the disperse the crowd with water canons and tear gas in what Human Rights Watch described as an “excessive use of force against protestors.”

Tens of thousands have since joined the Istanbul protests and the movement — which is now widely viewed as general discontent with the authoritarian style of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his government — has spread throughout Turkey. The police continue to use tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets to try to break up the demonstrations.

In response, Turkish daily newspaper Hurriyet reported on Tuesday that main opposition deputy Aylin Nazlıaka presented Interior Minister Muammer Güler with the tear gas canister vase (pictured above) and that Nazliaka said on Twitter that it “was intended to encourage Güler to stop police violence.”

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While Erdogan is standing firm in defending his government’s response, President Abbullah Gül this week defended the protesters’ rights to freedom of expression and Turkey’s deputy prime minster apologized on Tuesday for the “excessive violence” used by police against the demonstrators.

“It is wrong, unjust that excessive violence was used against those that acted upon their environmental sensitivities in the initial event,” said deputy prime minister Bulent Arinc. “I apologize to those citizens.”

The Washington Post noted on Wednesday that the country-wide demonstrations have shown the depth of anger at the Turkish prime minister. “Erdogan’s human rights record has been widely criticized, and critics complain that he is trying to introduce deeply conservative Islamic ideals into Turkey’s fiercely secular society,” the Post writes. “Although his popularity in opinion polls remains high, critics say Erdogan has grown increasingly divisive, heavy-handed and intolerant of dissenting voices.”

While the protests continue, the United Nations top human rights official called for an investigation into the Turkish authorities’ possible violations of human rights standards saying it should be “prompt, thorough, independent and impartial, and perpetrators should be brought to justice.”