In the early afternoon Friday, Turkish police surrounded a peaceful group of protesters, and, shortly after the end of Friday prayers, began to volley a slew of tear gas canisters to disperse the crowd. The protesters had been camped in Gezi Park -- a small leafy park wedged near the bustling Taksim square -- for days to prevent the ripping out of trees to make way for the building of a shopping mall.
Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan has chastised the protests, claiming that the hundreds of people were unfamiliar with Ottoman history, and that the projects would continue unabated. In turn, the police have been using tear gas to forcibly evict the protesters camped in the park. As the use of force has escalated, the protests have morphed from an occupy style movement into a larger-scale rebuke of the AKP's heavy-handed rule. The protests have now spread to Kocaeli, Edirne, Afyon, Eskisehir, Bodrum, Antalya, Aydin, Trabzon, Mugla, Mersin, Ankara, Adana, and Konya.
Despite having its genesis in the Gezi Park movement, the dynamics of the protests now reflect many of the fundamental antagonisms in Turkey's imperfect democracy. Erdogan's divisive rhetoric and his penchant for authoritarian rule have steadily eroded the party's support from small constituencies that it could once count on. While the AKP's voter base is often simplistically assumed to be religious conservatives, the truth of the matter is that AKP supporters include a small number of liberals eager to do away with the undemocratic constitution, a business sector happy with the party's handling of the economy, nationalists who are pleased with what they perceive as Turkey's re-emergence as a global power, Turkish Islamists obsessed with the proliferation of Ottomania (a growing desire among the Turkish population to reconnect and reacquaint themselves with the country's imperial past), and some members of Turkey's Kurdish minority who are pleased with AKP's democratic reforms.