Turkish police fired teargas and water cannon to disperse
protesters in central Istanbul. Photo by Reuters
Turkish police have fired teargas and water cannon 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 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 on Saturday (local time) that
Erdogan would run for the presidency and rule Turkey until
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
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.
"TRAITORS AND PAWNS"
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
"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
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.
Many at Gezi complained of authoritarianism as Erdogan, a
religious conservative who dominates the Turkish political
scene, marked a decade in office.
Turkish newspapers said 25,000 officers were deployed on
Saturday. Riot police circled the perimeter of Gezi, and
hundreds of plainclothes officers carrying batons patrolled
The metro station at Taksim was closed and the governor
halted ferryboat services between Istanbul's shores on either
side of the Bosphorus Strait.
Elif Cetinkaya, 45, and her family gathered across the street
from Gezi Park in a quiet protest, wearing T-shirts with the
images of those killed in the 2013 unrest.
"Why did so many people have to die to save this park? We are
here to mourn their loss and show that we stand firm, no
matter what obstacles they erect," Cetinkaya said.
But the movement has lost much of its momentum since the
March vote, said a member of a leftist party who wore a scarf
to ward off teargas.
"After the election, many people felt nothing made a
difference. There's no one issue now for everyone to rally
around," he said, requesting anonymity.