Turkey police crack down on protests

1 Jun

1000x750Turkish riot police have used tear gas and water cannon during clashes with thousands of protesters in Istanbul, as more people joined the fiercest anti-government demonstrations for years. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday called for an immediate end to the protests, that were triggered by government redevelopment plans of a park in Istanbul’s Taksim Square.

The protests have since widened into a broader show of defiance against Erdogan and his government. Police left the square on Saturday, taking away barricades and allowing in tens of thousands of protesters to gather. Earlier, police fired tear gas and water cannon down a major shopping street as crowds chanted “unite against fascism” and “government resign” marched towards Taksim, where hundreds were injured in clashes on Friday.

At least one police officer fired his gun into the air. A police helicopter buzzed overhead as 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 organise and regroup in side streets.

Chasing police

Al Jazeera’s Gokhan Yivciger said police had fired guns in the air after hundreds of people were chasing police vehicles as they were trying to leave the area. The government has given permission to the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) to hold a public demonstration, he added.

Al Jazeera’s Rawya Rageh, reporting from Taksim Sqaure, said there was growing momentum against the prime minister. “What protesters are telling us here is that they are angry about what they are describing as the stubborn reaction of the prime minister and the heavy-handed tactics of his police force.

“The protesters have been directing their anger both at the PM and also at the media. They say the media has sold out and is not covering these events.” One of the protesters told our correspondent: “It started with us defending the last bit of green space we have left. We have been gassed, we have been clubbed, and we have been hospitalised.”

Ibrahin Kalin, chief adviser to the prime minister, told Al Jazeera that police had fired tear gas in response to a group of protesters attacking police as they were leaving Taksim Square.

Ankara clashes

Stone-throwing protesters also clashed with police firing tear gas in the Kizilay district of central Ankara. Riot police with electric shock batons chased demonstrators into side streets and shops. “The police are still firing tear gas, but not as frequently as before,” she said.

“Protesters in Ankara were angry at the government and how police behaved in Istanbul.” Rights groups spoke out against the police’s allegedly excessive use of force.   “The police’s record on abusive policing has been surpassed as they use tear gas and water cannon fire against peaceful demonstrators,” said Emma Sinclair-Webb of Human Rights Watch.

“The government’s failure to respect the right to protest and to speak out is fuelling discontent among people in Turkey.” Amnesty International said it kept its office, close to Taksim, open as a “safe haven for protesters escaping police violence throughout the night”. The group said 20 doctors were in the office, treating injured protesters.

The demonstration at Taksim’s Gezi Park started late on Monday after trees were torn up to make way for redevelopment including building a shopping mall and the reconstruction of a former Ottoman army barracks. Erdogan vowed to push ahead with the plans and said the issue was being used as an excuse to stoke tensions.

“Every four years we hold elections and this nation makes its choice,” he said in a speech broadcast on television. “Those who have a problem with government’s policies can express their opinions within the framework of law and democracy … I am asking the protesters to immediately end these actions,” he said.

The opposition accused him of behaving like a dictator. “Tens of thousands are saying no, they are opposing the dictator … The fact that you are the ruling party doesn’t mean you can do whatever you want,” said Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the CHP.

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