June 10, 2013

MERSIN, Turkey (AP) — This month’s Mediterranean Games in Turkey will be “unaffected” by the anti-government protests sweeping the country, organizers said Monday.

The Olympic-style event is scheduled for June 20-30 in the Mediterranean coastal city of Mersin, with thousands of athletes from two dozen countries expected to take part. The protests, which have led to three deaths, entered their 11th day on Monday. They are the first serious challenge to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has been in power for 10 years.

In a statement, Mersin organizers and the Turkish Olympic Committee said the games are “unaffected by the largely peaceful protests that have taken place in the Adana-Mersin area.” “An exhaustive review of the current situation with leading experts found that there is no elevated risk to the event participants,” it said.

“We have worked hand-in-hand with all the necessary authorities and drawn on international best practice to create rigorous safety and security models to deal with all eventualities,” the statement added.

The protests were sparked May 31 by a violent police crackdown on a sit-in at a park on Taksim to prevent a redevelopment project that would replace the green space with a replica Ottoman Barracks. They have since spread to 78 cities across the country.

Protesters have been venting their anger at what they say are Erdogan’s growing authoritarian ways and attempts to impose religious and conservative views on their lifestyles. Erdogan, a devout Muslim, says he is committed to Turkey’s secular laws and rejects charges of autocracy.

The unrest comes as Turkey prepares to host football’s Under-20 World Cup, which begins June 21, and as Istanbul enters the final months of the bidding to host the 2020 Olympics. Istanbul is competing with Madrid and Tokyo for the Olympics. The IOC will select the host city in a secret ballot on Sept. 7 in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Turkish officials insist the bid should not be affected by the protests. Youth and Sports Minister Suat Kilic said on Twitter on Monday that hosting the Olympics will bring “great value” to the country and region.

“There are many people within the protesters who want (the bid) to be affected negatively,” Kilic said in an interview Sunday with Kanalturk television. “I am very saddened by this fact and I condemn those who do.”

“Istanbul 2020 is not only the aim of (Erdogan’s) party. This has to be the project of (all Turkish political parties).” Kilic noted that IOC President Jacques Rogge said last week that “there is nothing so far” to hurt Istanbul’s Olympic hopes.