Turkish police stormed Istanbul’s Taksim Square on Tuesday, clearing out anti-government protesters that have been occupying the park for almost two weeks.
Police used riot gear, water cannons, tear gas, and rubber bullets to rid the square from protesters. In retaliation, some activists hurled fireworks, fire bombs, and stones back at police.
The Turkey protests began on May 31 when police took violent action against a peaceful protest against the government’s plans to demolish Taksim Square and Gezi Park to make way for a shopping center.
Since then, protests have spread from Istanbul to other areas of Turkey as the issue changed from Gezi Park to a general frustration with the government and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who they contend has grown more and more authoritarian during his almost 10 years in office.
Police briefly gained control of Taksim Square and Gezi Park on Tuesday afternoon, but they withdrew just minutes later after they were confronted with hundreds of demonstrators.
Clashes took place throughout the day on Tuesday and several protesters were injured. While Istanbul’s governor stated that the injuries were minor, the president of the Turkish Medical Association reported that hundreds of protesters were injured and some were in critical condition.
While police fought with protesters, Prime Minister Erdogan defended the intervention, saying that the environmental movement in Gezi was hijacked by people who wished to harm the country instead. He added, “What did the protesters expect? That we would kneel down before them?”
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Erdogan also appeared to contradict earlier statements by Istanbul’s governor, who earlier announced that police would not break up the protest in Gezi Park. Erdogan stated, “I invite them to withdraw from the park and I ask this as prime minister. I am sorry but Gezi Park is for taking promenades, not for occupation.”
Police have removed banners that the Turkey protesters hung from a building that overlooks Taksim Square. They replaced the banners with the country’s flag, as well as the portrait of Kemal Ataturk, the father of the Turkish state. It is unclear how long the protests in Turkey will continue, though some believe it is the beginning of the Turkish Spring.
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[Image via Wikimedia Commons]