Turkish riot police storm Istanbul park to end protests

Anti-government protesters pray at Gezi park during Friday prayers at Taksim square in central Istanbul. Credit: Reuters
Anti-government protesters pray at Gezi park during Friday prayers at Taksim square in central Istanbul.
Credit: Reuters

Turkish riot police stormed a central Istanbul park on Saturday firing tear gas and water cannon to evict hundreds of anti-government protesters, hours after an ultimatum from Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan.

Lines of police backed by armored vehicles sealed off Taksim Square in the center of the city as officers stormed the adjoining Gezi Park, where protesters had been camped in a ramshackle settlement of tents.

Erdogan had warned hours earlier that security forces would clear the square, the center of more than two weeks of fierce anti-government protests which spread to cities across the country, unless the demonstrators withdrew before a ruling party rally in Istanbul on Sunday.

“We have our Istanbul rally tomorrow. I say it clearly: Taksim Square must be evacuated, otherwise this country’s security forces know how to evacuate it,” he told tens of thousands of flag-waving supporters at a rally in Ankara.

Panicked protesters fled into an upscale hotel at the back of the park, several of them vomiting, as clouds of tear gas and blasts from what witnesses said were percussion bombs – designed to create confusion rather than injure – engulfed the park.

Residents in surrounding neighborhoods took to their balconies or leaned out of windows banging pots and pans, their clatter rising above the wail of ambulance sirens, while car drivers sounded their horns in support of the protesters.

Several people were brought out of the park on stretchers to waiting ambulances, while families with young children fled into side streets from a main shopping street leading to the square.

A similar police crackdown on peaceful campaigners in Gezi Park two weeks ago provoked an unprecedented wave of protest against Erdogan, drawing in secularists, nationalists, professionals, trade unionists and students who took to the streets in protest at what they see as his autocratic style.

The unrest, in which police fired tear gas and water cannon at stone-throwing protesters night after night in cities including Istanbul and Ankara, left four people dead and about 5,000 injured, according to the Turkish Medical Association.

The protesters, who oppose government plans to build a replica Ottoman-era barracks on Gezi Park, had defied repeated calls to leave but had started to reduce their presence in the park after meetings with Erdogan and the local authorities.

“This is unbelievable. They had already taken out political banners and were reducing to a symbolic presence in the park,” Koray Caliskan, a political scientist at Bosphorus University told Reuters from the edge of Gezi Park.

TAKEN BY SURPRISE

Erdogan told protesters on Thursday that he would put the building plans on hold until a court rules on them. It was a softer stance, after two weeks in which he called protesters “riff-raff” and said the plans would go ahead regardless.

But at the first of two rallies this weekend by his ruling AK Party, he reverted to a defiant tone, telling tens of thousands of flag-waving supporters on the outskirts of Ankara that he would crush his opponents at elections next year.

He called for unity among Turks and accused foreign forces, the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), international media and market speculators of stoking unrest and trying to undermine the economy.

The police intervention so soon after Erdogan spoke took many by surprise on a busy Saturday night around Taksim, one of Istanbul’s main social hubs, not least after President Abdullah Gul, who has struck a more conciliatory tone than Erdogan, said earlier on Saturday that talks were progressing well.

“The fact that negotiation and dialogue channels are open is a sign of democratic maturity … I believe this process will have good results. From now on, everybody should return home,” Gul had said on his Twitter account.

What began as a campaign by environmentalists to save what they say is one of central Istanbul’s few remaining green spaces spiraled into the most serious show of defiance against Erdogan and his AK Party of his decade in power.

Erdogan has said the AK Party rallies in Ankara and Istanbul are meant to kick off campaigning for local elections next year and not related to the protests, but they are widely seen as a show of strength in the face of the demonstrations.

“I’ve come here for one reason: to support Tayyip, to support AKP. What is happening in Taksim is just shameful. It’s being carried out by marginal groups, you’ve seen the PKK (Kurdish) flags up there,” said Menderes Kan, 46.

Erdogan has long been Turkey’s most popular politician, his AK Party winning three successive election victories, each time with a larger share of the vote, but his critics complain of increasing authoritarianism.

“At the beginning I felt sympathy towards those in Gezi Park and I thought our prime minister’s tone was too harsh. But now the protests there have turned into something else,” said Sumeyye Erdogmus, a 22-year-old nurse.

“Nothing can justify behavior like cursing the prime minister’s mother and burning buses. This is anarchy, and today we are here to show that our prime minister is not alone.”



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
Local

NYC pension funds valued at $160b: Scott Stringer

The five NYC pension funds that thousands of city employees contribute to saw its fifth year in a row of increased returns, up $23 billion from last year.

Local

Man dies trapped in elevator shaft at Bronx…

A man in his twenties died after being trapped in an elevator shaft of a Bronx building early Monday, police said.

International

Sierra Leone Ebola patient, recovered from family, dies…

An Ebola patient whose family sparked a nationwide hunt when they forcefully removed her from a treatment center and took her to a traditional healer has died.

Local

VIDEO: Cop reassigned as NYPD investigates alleged head…

An officer alleged to have stomped on a Brooklyn man's head last week had his gun taken away and placed on modified duty.

Music

Newport Folk Festival: Photo gallery of 35 moments…

As has been the tradition since Bob Dylan plugged in a bajillion years ago, the Newport Folk Festival embraces more musical genres than its name implies.

Music

MKTO: Behind the bromance

MKTO's Malcolm Kelley and Tony Oller talk about the American Dream tour, Demi Lovato and getting turned down by girls.

Arts

James Earl Jones and Rose Byrne head to…

Two-time Tony winner James Earl Jones returns to the New York stage next month as an eccentric grandfather in a revival of the 1930s comedy…

Movies

Box office: Scarlett Johansson wins battle of brains…

Scarlett Johansson's "Lucy" handily dispatched with Dwayne Johnson's "Hercules" over the weekend.

MLB

Yankees looking to trade for Josh Willingham: Report

CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reported Sunday the Yankees are interested in Twins outfielder Josh Willingham.

MLB

Joe Torre: I'm in Hall of Fame because…

Joe Torre spent 18 years putting together a near Hall of Fame career as a player. But it was the 12 years he spent as…

MLB

Yankees GM Brian Cashman breaks down art of…

The action frequently accelerates as the non-waiver trade deadline approaches, as it will on Thursday.

Auto racing

Jeff Gordon captures fifth title at Brickyard 400

Jeff Gordon captures fifth title at Brickyard 400

Wellbeing

This Week In Health: Friends share similar DNA,…

Friends share similar DNA, study finds Location: U.S. Study subjects: Nearly 2,000 people Results: When it comes to our social networks, it seems that birds of…

Education

Are liberal arts colleges turning away from the…

Bryn Mawr College, a small women's college located just outside of Philadelphia, announced last week that it would be making standardized tests like the SAT…

Education

Recent grads discover school superintendent plagiarized parts of…

  Two recent high school graduates made a surprising discovery about the commencement speech their school superintendent delivered at their graduation: portions of it was copied…

Career

Feeling stuck? Get out of the entry-level job…

Television and movies may be littered with 20-something characters who seem directionless when it comes to their careers, but author Mary Traina says she finds…