Clashes in Turkey after teen dies

March 12, 2014 - 1:36:03 am

People protect themselves behind a trash can as anti-riot police fire water cannon to disperse thousands of people demonstrating following the death of Berkin Elvan, a teenage boy wounded in mass anti-government demonstrations last year, near the Middle East Technical University in Ankara yesterday.

ISTANBUL: Turkish riot police fired tear gas yesterday at protesters massed outside a hospital after the death of a teenage boy wounded during anti-government protests last year and left comatose.

About 1,000 people staged a rally outside an Istanbul hospital in solidarity with 15-year-old Berkin Elvan, who was walking to buy bread when he was struck in the head by a tear gas canister during the unrest in the city in June.

The story of Elvan — who spent 269 days in a coma — gripped the nation and became a symbol of the heavy-handed tactics used by police to reign in the biggest demonstrations against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan since he came to power in 2003.

Police used tear gas and water cannon after several dozen protesters at the Istanbul hospital hurled stones at a police bus and stole helmets and shields, witnesses said, adding that one demonstrator was injured.

In another protest in the capital Ankara, police fired tear gas and water cannon at around 1,000 students gathered outside the Middle East Technical University, an opposition stronghold, and blocked a major highway.

Silent vigils were held in the cities of Izmir, Antalya and Eskisehir, where a large number of students boycotted their classes, according to local media.  In Istanbul’s Okmeydani neighbourhood, where Elvan lived, shopkeepers shut their stores in a show of solidarity.

The boy’s mother Gulsum Elvan, speaking to reporters outside the Istanbul hospital, challenged Erdogan who had praised police “heroism” during the protests. “It’s not God who took my son away but prime minister Erdogan,” she said through tears.

President Abdullah Gul, who had called Elvan’s family while he was in a coma, expressed his sadness at the boy’s death. He urged everyone “to do everything to prevent this from happening again”.