The diatribe was triggered by a spate of protests against government plans for more than 40 hydroelectric dams, the decision to build nuclear power stations and fish farms said to be polluting beaches on Turkey’s Aegean coast.
On a visit to Rize on the Black Sea, Recep Tayyip Erdogan made little attempt to win over hearts and minds, instead asking campaigners: “Where were you until now? Why were you silent? The government is trying to do something now. Why didn’t you do anything when the fish farms were first built? There is this tendency to hit at the government and Mr. Erdogan no matter what. You don’t have the right.”
The “finest environmentalists,” he continued, were himself and his government — not the “idle environmentalists” who comprised campaign groups and failed to recognise his achievement in committing Turkey to the Kyoto treaty.
“Just ask those who prance around saying ‘I am an environmentalist’: what have they done for the world or the environment?” he said. “They are just people who try to do something with their spare time. We have signed the Kyoto protocol. Did they even stop to say thank you?”
Mr. Erdogan’s attack coincided with the arrest at the weekend of 33 campaigners — many foreign nationals — at a camp in the town of Sinop, where they were protesting against plans to build a nuclear plant.
While the Prime Minister may have calculated that his approach would appeal to voters concerned about energy needs and economic development, it has provoked outrage within the green movement and warnings from political commentators.
Umit Sahin, a spokesman for Turkey’s Green party, said Mr. Erdogan favoured “using force against the green opposition.”
Taylan Bilgic, writing in the English-language Turkish Daily News, said Mr. Erdogan misunderstood the protests, which were “a mass peasant movement” representing tens of thousands of ordinary people.
“Mr. Erodgan is strongly advised to find ways to ease concerns, because what he faces is much more than a bunch of pony-tailed, placard-toting, latte-loving adolescents,” wrote Bilgic. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2008