Police in Istanbul have withdrawn from Taksim Square, allowing the mass protest to continue unabated, Turkish media report. Istanbul and Ankara are entering the third day of violent protests, with tear gas and water cannon deployed and over 900 arrested.
Minor scuffles broke out after protesters lobbed fireworks at officers as they were drawing back, the state-run Anadolu Agency reports. Police removed barricades around the square, located in the heart of the city, which had previously been erected to prevent the anti-government protests, Private Dogan news agency said.
Despite the authorities decision to allow tens of thousands to flood onto the square, the main subway gateway to Taksim, the central station in the city’s metro network, has reportedly been shut down in an effort to keep more people from reaching the ongoing protests.
In the capital, Ankara, security forces battled with demonstrators who had amassed at a park near Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s office. Rallies have also been staged in the cities of Bodrum, Konya and Izmir.
Confronted with the growing street opposition, Erdogan remained defiant, demanding that protesters“stop their demonstrations immediately.”
“Police were there yesterday, they’ll be on duty today and also tomorrow because Taksim Square cannot be an area where extremists are running wild,” the PM warned.
In two days about 939 people have been detained across the Turkey as part of “necessary security measures,” Turkish Interior Minister Muammer Güler said.
On Monday, several dozen activists tried to stage a sit-in in Gezi Park, the last area of green space left on Taksim Square, after several trees were torn up to make way for a commercial redevelopment.
Erdogan dismissed the small protest on Wednesday, saying authorities would go ahead with the plan, which entails the construction of a replica Ottoman-era barracks that could house a shopping mall or apartments.
Following three days of police pressure, which saw officers douse peaceful protesters with pepper spray and tear gas, the sit-in attracted support from broad sections of Turkish society.
Police overkill in Izmir, Ankara – witness to RT
On Friday morning, riot police stormed the camp, deploying water cannons and tear gas, sparking the ongoing unrest. Human rights activists said hundreds were wounded as clashes raged on throughout the night.
Similar demonstrations have flared up around the country, including in Izmir and the capital, Ankara, despite a court decision temporarily to halt demolition of the park.
Izmir, on Turkey’s western coast, is usually a peaceful city and is not used to violence, Ayberg Yagiz, a product designer, says.
“We were standing there just protesting, singing some songs, like ‘Tayyip Resign’, when the police started firing at us with teargas and pepper gas. They were using their pepper gas rifles as a weapon. They aimed at us protesters, they aimed at me but they missed,” he told RT.
Yagiz explained that exactly the same thing happened in Ankara during protests when he was there two days ago. Yagiz wanted to make clear that many of his friends took part in the protests and that they were not what he would consider to be typical ‘protesters’ but are businessmen, actors and musicians.
In Izmir and Istanbul there was a lack of ambulances, despite a large number of people being wounded, the protestor complained. Yagiz explained how protesters forced one passing ambulance to stop and found policemen concealed inside.
The protests in Izmir and Ankara have been woefully under-covered by the Turkish media. In Ankara he said he saw one journalist from Reuters, but at the Izmir protests he didn’t see any journalists at all either from TV or the press.
The heavy-handed tactics deployed by police have been viewed by demonstrators as a sign of the government’s increasingly authoritarian bent, with the park demonstration turning into a broader, nationwide protest against Erdogan’s government.
Similar demonstrations have flared up around the country despite a court decision to temporarily halt demolition of the park.
Erdogan said that the Turkish Interior Ministry had launched an investigation into the use of excessive force by security forces. In a televised speech, the Turkish PM said police may have used tear gas excessively during their confrontation with protesters, although he insisted they did not represent the majority and were responsible for raising tensions.
However, protesters have countered the claim, saying the violent police crackdown is to blame for the recent unrest.
“This started simply as a peaceful sit-in to save a park, but it’s become one of the worst state attacks on protesters in recent memory — and a frightening example of the Turkish government’s growing eagerness to crack down on its own citizens,” an online petition demanding that Erdogan “End the crackdown now!” reads.
“The security forces have been individually targeting protesters to terrify, wound and kill us. 12 people have already suffered trauma injuries from gas canisters — one man died of heart attack, and hundreds are suffering from excessive gas inhalation,” it continues.