Turkey protests: Riot police forced out of Istanbul's main square after two days of fierce street-fighting
- Street protests erupted yesterday against Turkey's conservative government
- Thousands took to the streets in rallies and demonstrations in three cities
- Police responded with batons, tear gas and water cannon
- Violence continued on the streets of Istanbul and other cities today
- Police retreat comes after PM pledged to stand firm in Taksim Square
PUBLISHED: 03:43 EST, 1 June 2013 | UPDATED: 12:55 EST, 1 June 2013
Turkish police beat a retreat from a main Istanbul square today after 36 hours of intense street fighting with anti-government protesters.
Some protesters hurled rocks and fireworks at the withdrawing police, prompting officers to fire several rounds of tear gas to push back the crowds flooding into Taksim Square.
The police retreat follows two days of violence spurred by a vicious police raid on a sit-in protest staged to prevent a planned development at one of Istanbul's few remaining parks.
Victory? Protestors arrive in Taksim Square after police pull back following fierce clashes on the second day of violent protests over a development project which turned into a wider protest against the government
Carnage: A Turkish protester wears a gas mask and holds a stone as demonstrators face riot police
Fury: Some protesters hurled rocks and fireworks at the withdrawing police, prompting officers to fire several rounds of tear gas to push back the crowds flooding into Taksim Square
Smashed: Turkish riot police are seen through a shattered and barred shop window
Demonstrations following the raid turned into a wider protest against the government of prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his his Islamist-leaning government, who are seen as becoming increasingly authoritarian.
Turkey banned alcohol advertising and increased restrictions on alcohol sales last month in a move which angered secularists who accuse the government of having an Islamic agenda.
The protests have seen police fire teargas and water cannon down a major shopping street as crowds of protesters chanting 'unite against fascism' and 'government resign' marched towards Taksim, where hundreds were injured in clashes yesterday.
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.
Waiters scurried out of luxury hotels lining the square, on what should be a busy tourist weekend in one of the world's most visited cities, ferrying lemons to protesters, who squirted the juice in their eyes to mitigate the effects of tear gas.
A few thousand people earlier marched along the Bosporus Bridge from the Asian shore of the city, toward Taksim, on the European side, but were met with pressurised water and tear gas that filled the air in a thick cloud of smoke.
Protesters chant slogans against the government: There is anger against the perceived increasing authoritarianism of the Islamist-leaning government of prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Crackdown: A Turkish riot policeman fires a tear gas grenade to disperse demonstrators earlier today
'People from different backgrounds are coming together. This has become a protest against the government, against Erdogan taking decisions like a king,' said Oral Goktas, a 31-year old architect among a peaceful crowd walking towards Taksim.
Stone-throwing protesters also clashed with police firing tear gas in the Kizilay district of central Ankara as a helicopter hovered overhead.
Further protests were planned in other centres including the Aegean coastal city of Izmir.
Crackdown: Clouds of tear gas envelop the crowds in central Istanbul's Taksim Square as police move in to clear protests against a planned development on one of the city's last remaining green spaces
Whose streets? Riot police use a water cannon to disperse the crowd during the anti-government protest. Scores of people were wounded yesterday as police moved into clear protesters in Istanbul and other cities
Turkish riot police move in to secure Istiklal Street after clashes with protesters: The protest grew out of anger at police's heavy-handed tactics to break up a peaceful sit-in to protect a park in Taksim Square yesterday
PROTESTS REFLECT WIDER CONCERN OVER GOVERNMENT
The violent clashes between protestors and police reflect increasing concerns over the direction of the Turkish government.
Demonstrations in Taksim Square have turned into a wider protest against prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Islamist-leaning government, which is seen as becoming increasingly authoritarian.
Turkey banned alcohol advertising and increased restrictions on
alcohol sales last month in a move which angered secularists who accuse the
government of having an Islamic agenda.
It followed a move forbidding female flight attendants at Turkey’s national airline from wearing red lipstick and nail polish.
Turkey has remained a secular constitution since the modernising reforms of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who threw religion out of public life in the 1920s and 1930s as he rebuilt Turkey from the ruins of the Ottoman Empire.
The powerful military views itself as the ultimate guarantor of Turkey's secular order and has ousted four democratically elected governments in the past 50 years, most recently in 1997 when with public support it drove out a cabinet it viewed as too Islamist.
The current government, led by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, is run by the Muslim AK party which has its roots in a banned Islamic movement.
Under Erdogan’s leadership the country has relaxed restrictions on religious expression, including lifting the ban on head scarves in courts and schools.
Earlier, Mr Erdogan had called on demonstrators to to end anti-government protests now into a second day.
In a televised speech, Mr Erdogan admitted police may have used tear gas excessively while confronting protesters and said this would be investigated
But he remained defiant, insisting police would break down protests Taksim Square and indicating that the government would press ahead with the redevelopment plans that sparked the demonstrations.
The demonstration at Taksim's Gezi Park started late on Monday after trees were torn up to make way for the redevelopment which includes plans for a new shopping centre and Ottoman-themed army barracks.
Police moved into the park in the early hours of yesterday morning to break up the peaceful protest with batons and tear gas.
Mr Erdogan said 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 main pro-secular opposition Republican People's Party (CHP).
Ozturk Turkdogan, the head of the Turkish Human Rights Association, said hundreds of people in several cities were injured in the police crackdown and a few hundred people were arrested.
Protesters run for cover as tear gas canisters are fired in to the crowd at Taksim Square: The unrest reflects growing disquiet at the authoritarianism of the governing Justice and Development Party
A demonstrator throws a tear gas canister back at riot police: The violence erupted after a police raid on protesters who had been camped out in an effort to foil plans to build a new Ottoman-themed shopping centre
He came equipped: An activist wearing a gas mask stands in a cloud of tear gas as police used water cannons and irritant agents to disperse demonstrators at the rally
Street fighting: Demonstrators set fire to barricades as they clash with riot police during the anti-government protest which continued into the night
Thousands of demonstrators massed yesterday on streets surrounding Taksim Square, long a venue for political unrest, 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 their nearby luxury hotels.
BRITONS TOLD TO AVOID DEMOS
Foreign Office is advising against all but essential travel to parts of
Turkey in the light of anti-government demonstrations.
Britons have been warned not to get involved in the protests.
travel advice was changed today, with the message on the Foreign Office
website reading: 'Demonstrations are taking place in Istanbul and in
other cities across Turkey, including Ankara.
'Police are using tear gas and water cannons in response. We advise British nationals to avoid all demonstrations.'
More than 2,500,000 British nationals visit Turkey every year, according to the Foreign Office.
The unrest reflects growing disquiet at the perceived authoritarianism of Mr 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 neighbouring Syria, a tightening of restrictions on alcohol sales and warnings against public displays of affection.
'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.
'This is the beginning of a summer of discontent.'
'This isn't just about trees any more, 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.
He said he had come to support the protesters after reading on Twitter about the police use of tear gas, adding: 'We will stay here tonight and sleep on the street if we have to.'
Thousands chanting for the government to resign gathered at a park in the centre 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.
Anti-government protesters shout slogans as they clash with riot police in central Ankara: Solidarity protests erupted in the Turkish capital and the Aegean coastal city of Izmir as news spread of police brutality
An anti-government protester throws stones at riot police: Thousands chanting for the government to resign gathered in the centre of Ankara, where police earlier fired tear gas to disperse opposition supporters
Streets of rage: An anti-government protester sits in front of rubbish set on fire by protesters in Ankara
A woman runs away as anti-government protesters clash with riot police: Amnesty International said it was concerned by 'the use of excessive force' by the police
A Turkish woman of Palestinian origin was in a critical condition after being hit by a police gas canister, hospital sources said.
The 34-year-old, who doctors had earlier identified as Egyptian, was undergoing an operation after suffering a brain haemorrhage.
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 U.S. 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,' said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.
Fierce: Turks set up fires and barricades, and battled Turkish police late into the night in Istanbul as well
Fight the power: In Washington, the U.S. State Department said it was concerned with the number of injuries inflicted on the Turkish protesters and was gathering its own information on the incident
Interior Minister Muammer Guler promised that allegations that police had used disproportionate force would be investigated.
Mr Erdogan has overseen a transformation in Turkey during his decade in power, turning its economy from crisis-prone into Europe's fastest-growing. Per-capita income has tripled in nominal terms since his party rose to power.
He remains by far Turkey's most popular politician, and is widely viewed as its most powerful leader since Mustafa Kemal Ataturk founded the modern secular republic on the ashes of the Ottoman Empire 90 years ago.
But Mr Erdogan brooks little dissent. Hundreds of military officers have been jailed for plotting a coup against him 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 Mr Erdogan wearing an Ottoman emperor's turban.
A grab from a video taken in Gezi Park, Istanbul, as riot police enter and clear the park: The police operation to clear the part of a sit-in protest was what sparked the mass demonstrations across Turkey yesterday
Dissent: 'Occupy Gezi' - a reference to protests in New York and London last year - was a top-trending hashtag on Twitter yesterday
Secular Turks are increasingly angry at the increased authoritarianism of the ruling AKP party, whose policies are Islamist in tone
In a televised speech, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan admitted police may have used tear gas excessively while confronting protesters and said this would be investigated
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.
'Kiss protests,' in which demonstrators are urged to lock lips, had already been planned for Istanbul and Ankara this weekend after subway officials were reported to have admonished a couple for kissing in public a week ago.
Mr Erdogan is pushing ahead with a slew of multibillion-dollar projects he sees as embodying Turkey's emergence as a major power.
They include a shipping canal, a giant mosque and a third Istanbul airport billed to be one of the world's biggest.
Speaking a few miles from Gezi Park at the launch on Wednesday of construction of a third bridge linking Istanbul's European and Asian shores, Mr Erdogan vowed to pursue plans to redevelop Taksim Square.
Architects, leftist parties, academics, city planners and others have long opposed the plans, saying they lacked consultation with civic groups and would remove one of central Istanbul's few green spaces.
A video posted online showed Turkish
police firing water cannon at one furious protester during yesterday's
massive street demonstrations in Istanbul - with devastating results
The video shows a burly protester goading police riding in a vehicle equipped with a water cannon. He taunts the officers inside, standing with his arms spread as if daring them to turn the weapon on him.
Scroll down for video
Fury: A Turkish protester goads riot police riding in a truck equipped with a water cannon
Charge: In his anger he even tries to beat the side of the armoured vehicle with his bare hands
High pressure: After he steps back into the water cannon's firing line, the police turn it on him
Downed: The heavy-set man is flung back several feet, and others nearby run to his aid
He even charges at the armoured truck and beats it with his bare hands.
When he steps back into the line of fire of the water cannon they turn the high-pressure hose on him, knocking him head over heels and hurling him back several feet.
Apparently badly injured by the spray he lies motionless on the ground and several people rush to give him first aid.
The police then turn the water cannon on them as well.
Now watch a video of the police water-cannon attack
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