Democracy in Turkey: Peaceful Protest Turns Violent as Police Fires Teargas
Turkish police fired tear gas and water cannon on Friday at demonstrators in central Istanbul, wounding scores of people and prompting rallies in other cities in the fiercest anti-government protests in years.
Thousands of demonstrators massed on streets surrounding Istanbul’s central Taksim Square while protests erupted in the capital, Ankara, and the Aegean coastal city of Izmir.
Broken glass and rocks were strewn across a main shopping street near Taksim. Primary school children ran crying from the clouds of tear gas, while tourists caught by surprise scurried to get back to hotels lining the square.
The unrest reflects growing disquiet at the authoritarianism of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip 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.
“We do not have a government, we have Tayyip Erdogan. … Even AK Party supporters are saying they have lost their mind, they are not listening to us,” said Koray Caliskan, a political scientist at Bosphorus University, who attended the protest.
The protest at Taksim’s Gezi Park started late on Monday after trees were torn up under a government redevelopment plan, but has widened into a broader demonstration against Erdogan’s administration. Friday’s violence erupted after a dawn police raid on demonstrators who had been camped out for days.
“This isn’t just about trees anymore, 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, who came to support the protesters after reading on Twitter about the police use of tear gas.
Thousands chanting for the government to resign gathered at a park in the center of Ankara, where police earlier fired tear gas to disperse several dozen opposition supporters trying to reach the AKP headquarters. Protesters also rallied at two locations in Izmir, according to pictures on social media.
A women was last night in critical condition after being hit by a police gas canister and underwent an operation after suffering a brain hemorrhage.
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.
Some people were injured when a wall they were climbing collapsed as they tried to flee clouds of tear gas.
Amnesty International said it was concerned by “the use of excessive force” by the police against what had started out as a peaceful protest. Ria Oomen-Ruijten, the European parliament rapporteur on Turkey, also voiced concern.
In Washington, the State Department said it was concerned with the number of injuries and was gathering its own information on the incident.
“We believe that Turkey’s long-term stability, security and prosperity is best guaranteed by upholding the fundamental freedoms of expression, assembly and association, which is what it seems these individuals were doing,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters.
Interior Minister Muammer Guler promised that allegations that police had used disproportionate force would be investigated.
Hundreds of military officers have been jailed for plotting a coup against Erdogan in recent years. Academics, journalists, politicians and others face trial on similar charges.
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.
“These people will not bow down to you” read one banner at the Gezi Park protest, alongside a cartoon of Erdogan wearing an Ottoman emperor’s turban.
Postings on social media including Twitter, where “Occupy Gezi” – a reference to protests in New York and London last year – was a top-trending hashtag, and Facebook said similar demonstrations were planned for the next few days in other Turkish cities including Ankara, Izmir, Adana and Bursa.
Turkey protesters calls for resignation of Prime Minister Erdogan
More than 100,000 Turkish protesters have gathered at Istanbul’s Taksim Square, calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Recep Tayyib Erdogan.
The protesters occupied the iconic Taksim Square on Saturday as part of their demonstration against the government’s decision to demolish Gezi Park and replace it with an Ottoman-era military barracks to be used as a shopping mall.
Police forces clashed with protesters, using tear gas and water cannons to disperse them. Riot police also blocked thousands of protesters from moving towards Taksim Square.
The protesters condemned the Turkish government as a “fascist government” and called Erdogan a new “Sultan.”
The protesters also carried banners reading “Nation will hold ruling AKP (the Justice and Development Party) accountable,” calling on the government to resign.
Erdogan has admitted “extreme” police action against protesters in Istanbul.
Footages show thick smoke rising over Taksim Square, the cause of which is not known yet.
Protesters also condemned Erdogan’s stance on the ongoing crisis in the neighboring Syria.
As the unrest escalated, President Abdullah Gul called for “common sense” to prevail noting that anti-government protests have reached a “worrisome level.”
“We all need to be mature in order for the protests … which have reached a worrisome level, to calm down,” Gul said in a statement.
Reports say electricity and Internet services were shut down in parts of the city as anti-government demonstrations continued.
Earlier in the day, Erdogan called on protesters to “stop their demonstrations immediately,” saying the government would not back away from the controversial park project .
Thousands of people also took to the streets in other cities, including the capital Ankara, Izmir, Mugla and Antalya in support of the protesters in Istanbul.
The unrest turned into anti-government protests after police moved into Taksim Square on Friday in order to break up a sit-in protest against the razing of the park, arresting dozens of protesters.
The protesters say Gezi Park, which is a traditional gathering point for rallies and protests as well as a popular tourist destination, is the city’s last green public space.