Protests Spread Across Turkey
02 June, 2013
In Turkey , the police forces retreated from Taksim in Istanbul . The retreat was ahead of a march by the Republican People's Party (CHP). But before the police withdrawal a brutal crackdown targeting demonstrators protesting the demolition of the Gezi Park went on for over a day. Clashes broke out in Istanbul 's symbolic Istiklal Avenue, the Besiktas and Harbiye districts. Police have clashed with protesters in the capital Ankara . Officials said more than 90 protests had taken place across Turkey . The protests have spiraled into widespread anti-government unrest and anger over the perceived "Islamisation" of Turkey .
Thousands of protesters entered Taksim Square and even took over Gezi Park , which had been cordoned off by the police after a very violent dawn raid on demonstrators on May 31. The raid had triggered some of the largest clashes between police and peaceful protesters in Turkey in recent years after activists occupied Gezi Park on May 28.
The police, despite withdrawing, fired back a tear gas salvo at protesters in the Istiklal Avenue, Harbiye and Besiktas connections to Taksim Square . Police used a huge amount of tear gas at the Harbiye entrance of Gezi Park while protesters were at the same time able to gather in numbers at Taksim Square .
Despite a festive atmosphere in Taksim, clashes broke out again just a few kilometers away close to Besiktas, where the Istanbul Office of prime minister Erdogan is located. Police continued to attack with tear gas and water cannon despite the earlier calls for truce by the officials. Protesters responded chanting behind barricades to avoid police intervention.
However police fired once again, entering the pedestrian street with a water cannon riot vehicle.
Despite the repeated police interventions, the numbers gathered at the protests only increased. Protesters chanted slogans against the ruling Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) and Erdogan, calling on the government to resign.
Between 4,000 and 5,000 protesters gathered in Istiklal Street this morning.
Most shops did not open after the violence of the previous day, and one of the busiest streets of Istanbul looked completely paralyzed on Saturday. Jammers located around Taksim Square hindered demonstrators' access to the Internet.
Crowds also crossed the Bosphorus Bridge to the European side in the early morning hours of June 1, seeking to reach Taksim Square . However, their route was blocked by police who again fired tear gas and water cannon near the Besiktas district.
Major connections leading to Taksim were blocked by the riot police, who fired tear gas without making any distinction between protesters and locals. Two choppers circled the skies in the area while ambulances continuously brought new patients to the hospitals. Dozens of protestors were injured. Several hotels around the Taksim area provided support to the injured or those who suffered respiratory problems due to tear gas.
Some residents in the area banged pots and pans from their homes to protest the government over the crackdown and express support for the protesters in the streets.
Main opposition CHP leader Kemal Kiliçdaroglu said Turkey does not want to experience the Germany of 40's in 2013 while responding to journalists in Ankara , before moving to Istanbul for a march to the Taksim square together with CHP deputies and supporters.
The protesters, who started their mobilization to raise awareness on the demolition of one of the city's last remaining green areas, started chanting for the resignation of Erdogan following the police's relentless tear gas campaign.
Prime minister Erdogan said police had made "mistakes" in the force they have used, but has called for an end to the Istanbul protests.
The protesters say Gezi Park is one of the few green spaces left in Istanbul , and that the government is ignoring their appeals for it be saved.
Their protest began with a small number of people staging a sit-in in the park at the start of the week.
On Friday, clashes broke out as police fired tear gas to try to clear them out.
One protester, Koray Caliskan, told the BBC people felt "victorious". "This is the first time in Turkey 's political history that a million people moved into Taksim Square to claim their public park," he said.
The BBC's Shaimaa Khalil in Istanbul says the mood changed as darkness fell, and that the largely young crowd appeared to be growing increasingly agitated.
Similar clashes were seen on the streets of the capital, from where video footage emerged which appeared to show a group of protesters being run over by a water cannon vehicle.
The ruling AK Party has its roots in political Islam, but he says he is committed to Turkey 's state secularism.
A BBC report said:
As police withdrew hundreds of demonstrators went to the square to celebrate what they see as a victory. Several dozen linked arms and danced in a circle. Others let off fireworks. Many wore home-made gas masks and goggles round their necks.
A news.scotsman.com report by Bulut Emiroglu said:
The police retreat is an apparent move to end tensions from two days of anti-government protests.
The protests grew out of anger at heavy-handed police tactics on Friday to break up a peaceful sit-in by people trying to protect a park in Taksim square.
The park demonstration turned into a wider protest against Erdogan, who is seen as becoming increasingly authoritarian, and spread to other Turkish cities despite the court decision to temporarily halt the demolition of the park. A human rights group said hundreds of people were injured in scuffles with police.
Protesters called on Erdogan to resign. In the capital, Ankara , police clashed with protesters who gathered at a park close to Erdogan's office.
Police prevented a rally in central Ankara , near a building housing Erdogan's office, firing tear gas as people started to gather.
The leader of Turkey 's pro-secular, main opposition party called on Erdogan to immediately withdraw police from Taksim.
Ozturk Turkdogan, the head of the Turkish Human Rights Association, said hundreds of people in several cities were injured in the police crackdown and a few hundred people were arrested.
The protest was seen as a demonstration of the anger that had already been building toward Turkish police who have been accused of using inordinate force to quash demonstrations and of firing tear gas too abundantly, including at this year's May Day rally.
There is also resentment from mainly pro-secular circles toward the prime minister's Islamic-rooted government and toward Erdogan himself, who is known for his abrasive style. He is accused of adopting an increasingly uncompromising stance and showing little tolerance of criticism.
In a surprise move last week, the government passed legislation curbing the sale and advertising of alcoholic drinks, alarming secularists. Many felt insulted when Erdogan defended the move by calling people who drink “alcoholics”.
Unfortunately, there isn't a prosecutor brave enough to stand up to police.
“The people are standing up against Erdogan who is trying to monopolize power and is meddling in all aspects of life.”
Tusiad representing Turkey 's leading industrialists and an influential Turkish business group criticized the force used on the protesters and urged more government tolerance.
A report by Hurriyet (“Capital city rocked by police crackdown on solidarity protest with Gezi Park ”) said:
Security forces in Ankara also staged a violent crackdown on demonstrators who organized a solidarity protest May 31 against the demolition of Taksim Gezi Park .
Police blocked the arterial roads connecting to Kizilay, Çankaya and Kugulu Park , the three main focal points of the capital city.
Security forces used tear gas and water cannons to quell thousands of protesters. Some protesters were reportedly injured following police's heavy intervention.
The demonstration had started peacefully as thousands of Ankara locals gathered at Kugulu Park , their own little patch of green in the center of the city, to show their solidarity with the protesters in Istanbul being subject to a brutal police raid.
A SkyNews report by Guldenay Sonumut from Istanbul said:
Authorities have arrested almost a 1,000 people across the country.
Riot police backed by armored vehicles and helicopters in Istanbul had for much of Saturday fought running battles with thousands of people who turned out to protect a park in the city's Taksim Square .
What started as a peaceful environmental protest turned into a national demonstration against the Islamist-rooted government of Erdogan that is seen by many as authoritarian.
Crowds of protesters chanting "shoulder to shoulder against fascism" and "government resign" marched on Taksim Square , littered with broken glass, rocks and an overturned vehicle.
Erdogan said: "If this is about holding meetings, if this is a social movement, where they gather 20, I will get up and gather 200,000 people. Where they gather 100,000, I will bring together one million from my party."
Support rallies have gathered in Ankara , Izmir , Kocaeli and Adana and their numbers are increasing.
On Thursday morning, riot police were sent to disperse the sleeping protesters camping in the park. Videos of masked police burning down tents and firing tear gas at unarmed people shocked the public.
The protesters rallied once more on Thursday night and the situation got worse on Friday morning.
The police raid was more brutal than the previous day and people who were trying to escape police got crushed under a wall they were trying to climb.
The videos spread quickly through social networks while news channels and mainstream media failed to report on what was starting to become a social resistance movement.
Throughout Friday, protesters tried re-entering the park that had been sealed off by police barricades.
People from all walks of life rallied around this seemingly unimportant protest. University students, actors, journalists, artists, young or old, conservative or liberal, were all united in the movement.
Social media has become the main source of information and people are now afraid the government will shut down the internet.
Twitter has become the eyes and ears of the Gezi movement. Protesters relay crucial information about police barricades, open roads, injury status or emergency situations.
Police closed access to ambulances on Friday and protesters who were injured asked for medical help via Twitter or Facebook.
A group of medical students and doctors volunteered and their names and numbers were quickly broadcast on Twitter, urging protesters to call them if anyone was seriously injured.
Lawyers have volunteered their services to those who have been arrested.
When police started using jammers to stop communication in Taksim, shops, cafes and businesses shared their wifi passwords on Twitter to help everyone share their pictures and videos.
The UK Foreign Office said on its website: ‘Demonstrations are taking place in Istanbul and in other cities across Turkey , including Ankara .
‘Police are using tear gas and water cannon in response. We advise British nationals to avoid all demonstrations.'
Groups of mostly young men and women, bandanas or surgical masks tied around their mouths, used Facebook and Twitter on mobile phones to try to organize and regroup in side streets.
'People from different backgrounds are coming together. This has become a protest against the government, against Erdogan taking decisions like a king,' said Oral Goktas, a 31-year old architect among a peaceful crowd walking towards Taksim.
Turkey followed a move forbidding female flight attendants at Turkey 's national airline from wearing red lipstick and nail polish.
Turkey has remained a secular constitution since the modernizing reforms of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who threw religion out of public life in the 1920s and 1930s as he rebuilt Turkey from the ruins of the Ottoman Empire .
The powerful military views itself as the ultimate guarantor of Turkey's secular order and has ousted four democratically elected governments in the past 50 years, most recently in 1997 when with public support it drove out a cabinet it viewed as too Islamist.
Under Erdogan's leadership the country has relaxed restrictions on religious expression, including lifting the ban on head scarves in courts and schools.
The unrest reflects growing disquiet at the perceived authoritarianism of Erdogan and his Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP).
Riot police clashed with tens of thousands of May Day protesters in Istanbul this month.
There have also been protests against the government's stance on the conflict in neighboring Syria , and warnings against public displays of affection.
'This isn't just about trees any more, it's about all of the pressure we're under from this government. We're fed up, we don't like the direction the country is headed in,' said 18-year-old student Mert Burge.
He said he had come to support the protesters after reading on Twitter about the police use of tear gas, adding: 'We will stay here tonight and sleep on the street if we have to.'
Protesters also rallied at two locations in Izmir , according to pictures on social media.
A Turkish woman of Palestinian origin was in a critical condition after being hit by a police gas canister, hospital sources said.
A total of 12 people, including a pro-Kurdish MP and a Reuters photographer, suffered trauma injuries and hundreds suffered respiratory problems due to tear gas, doctors said.
In Washington , the U.S. State Department said it was concerned with the number of injuries and was gathering its own information on the incident.
Hundreds of military officers have been jailed for plotting a coup against him in recent years. Academics, journalists, politicians and others face trial on similar charges.
Erdogan He has made no secret of his ambition to run for the presidency in elections next year when his term as prime minister ends, increasing opposition dismay.
'Kiss protests,' in which demonstrators are urged to lock lips, had already been planned for Istanbul and Ankara this weekend after subway officials were reported to have admonished a couple for kissing in public a week ago.
Speaking a few miles from Gezi Park at the launch on Wednesday of construction of a third bridge linking Istanbul 's European and Asian shores, Erdogan vowed to pursue plans to redevelop Taksim Square . Architects, leftist parties, academics, city planners and others have long opposed the plans.
From Istanbul a report by Anatolia News Agency (“Court suspends planned Artillery Barracks project to replace Gezi Park ”) said:
Protesters received good news from an administrative court May 31 which ruled for the suspension of the Artillery Barracks project planned to be built on the site of Istanbul 's most central park.
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