Turkish protestors back on the streets

By bne IntelliNews May 2, 2014

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Thousands of demonstrators defied an official ban on demonstrations at Istanbul’s Taksim Square on May 1, resulting in violent clashes with police, who used tear gas and water cannon to force protesters away from the square. 

Protesters started gathering in the Besiktas district near Taksim Square at early on May 1, with the first clashes breaking out at around 08:00. Over 140 protesters were detained by police during around five hours of fighting, according to Hurriyet Daily News. Ninety, including 19 police, were injured in the clashes, according to a statement from the Istanbul governor’s office. 

The Turkish government had issued a ban on May Day protests in Taksim Square, the epicenter of mass anti-government protests last year. However, the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions and members of opposition parties including the Republican People’s Party insisted they would take their protests to the iconic square. 

"We will be in Taksim despite the irrational and illegal ban. All roads will lead to Taksim on May Day,” said a joint statement from Turkey’s trade unions issued on April 30. 

Around 40,000 police officers were deployed in Istanbul to repel attempts by the crowds to reach the square. Police used tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets as they sought to disperse the protestors. Many of the main streets in central Istanbul were blocked to prevent access to the square, and bus and ferry services were suspended. 

Protesters built their own barricades on the streets leading to the square and attacked police with Molotov cocktails, torn up paving stones and slingshots. Many protesters were equipped with gas masks and goggles. Smaller protests took place in the capital Ankara, where the central Kizilay Square was also closed to protesters. 

Turkey has seen a resurgence in resentment of the government, in particular long-standing Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, in recent months. Erdogan and other top officials are the subject of a corruption probe launched in December, while critics say a recent attempt to ban social networking site Twitter is further evidence of the government’s growing authoritarianism. 

However, in March, local elections widely seen as a a referendum on Erdogan’s rule and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) took a clear lead with around 45% of the vote. Meanwhile, the opposition CHP managed to gain around 26%. The result included a narrow lead for the AKP in Istanbul. 

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