Turkish riot police have used teargas and water cannons to scatter hundreds of people staging a protest against planned changes to the country’s constitution that would envisage expanded powers for Turkey’s president.
Violence erupted on Monday after protesters from the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), Turkish Lawyers Association and several other non-governmental organizations had gathered outside Turkey’s parliament in the capital, Ankara, to voice their anger at a new draft constitution granting additional executive powers to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The amendments had been proposed earlier in the day, aiming to hand Erdogan greater authority as president and the possibility of serving two more five-year terms in office.
“They are trying to turn the democratic parliamentary regime into a totalitarian regime,” said Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the opposition CHP leader, who was among the participants in the protest rally.
Witnesses said many of the protesters were forced back by Turkish police along a main road away from the gates to the parliament compound.
On December 30, 2016, the draft law, submitted by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), passed the Turkish parliament’s constitutional commission.
Debate on the proposals is expected to last for two weeks and upon approval by the legislature, the reformed constitution will be put to a referendum before the spring.
Supporters of the draft say such a law would enable the head of state to restore stability to the country, which has been shaken by sporadic deadly terror attacks and a botched military coup last July.
Critics, however, denounce it as a means of restoration of the Ottoman Era powers to Erdogan, whom they see as an authoritarian figure.
The draft, if approved, would allow Erdogan to stay in office for two more terms until 2029, pave the way for the abolition of the post of prime minister, in which Erdogan himself served from 2003 until 2014, and enable the appointment of vice presidents.
It will also empower the president to hire and fire ministers.
Other proposed amendments would increase the number of seats in the 550-member parliament to 600, reduce the minimum age of legislators from 25 to 18 and set parliamentary and presidential elections on the same day.
The ruling AKP, which currently has 317 seats in the parliament, needs a majority of 330 out of the 550 seats available to call a referendum on the draft law.