ISTANBUL: Turkish police fired tear gas and water cannon yesterday to disperse protesters in central Istanbul who sought to mark the one-year anniversary of the country’s biggest anti-government demonstrations in decades.
Authorities closed roads and stopped public transport to deny access to Taksim Square and the adjoining Gezi Park where government plans to raze the green space and build a shopping mall sparked last year’s unrest.
Police lines kept back activists who had hoped to read a statement at Taksim Square and lay flowers at the park to commemorate the deaths of at least six people in the protests against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s rule.
Another half-dozen people died in sporadic unrest in the ensuing months as anger at Erdogan and his AK Party simmered.
Street protests could be a recurring feature in the run-up to an August presidential election in which Erdogan is expected to stand, but few expect this to cause the three-time premier serious political damage. A senior AK Party official said yesterday that Erdogan would run for the presidency and rule Turkey until 2023.
Near Taksim, hundreds of people chanted “Resign, murderer AKP” and “Everywhere is Taksim, everywhere is resistance” before police fired teargas at the crowd, forcing it to retreat.
Eighty people were detained and 13 were injured in clashes with police, Turkey’s Human Rights Association said, but no official figures were immediately available. Police helicopters circled overhead. Tourists lugging suitcases were forced to turn back to escape the stinging gas. A few hundred protesters carrying political banners ran away from police down a hill towards the Bosphorus Strait, the waterway bisecting Istanbul, Europe’s biggest city with about 14 million residents.
Police also broke up protests in the capital Ankara and the southern city of Adana, CNN Turk reported.
In neighbourhoods across Istanbul, residents opened their windows and banged pots and pans, a traditional form of dissent that was employed throughout the Gezi protest.
Erdogan accused opponents of taking to the streets to push their demands but said a March 30 municipal election that his party won decisively means he had been authorised to fight back.
“I want my people to see clearly that young people were used as pawns by internal and external traitors in the Gezi incidents,” he said in a television address. “On March 30, you authorised us to fight against these traitors and pawns.”
On May 31, 2013, police forcefully evicted environmentalists from Gezi Park who had staged a peaceful sit-in for several days to try to stop government plans to erect a shopping centre and luxury flats in one of central Istanbul’s few remaining parks.
Angered by the use of violence, tens of thousands of people from a variety of political backgrounds descended on Gezi and occupied Taksim Square for two weeks before authorities finally cleared the space. REUTERS