Turkish police fired tear gas and water cannon on Friday at demonstrators in central Istanbul, wounding scores of people and prompting rallies in other cities in the fiercest anti-government protests in years.
Thousands of demonstrators massed on streets surrounding Istanbul’s central Taksim Square 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 hotels lining the square.
The unrest reflects growing disquiet at the authoritarianism of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip 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 neighboring Syria.
“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.
The protest at Taksim’s Gezi Park started late on Monday after trees were torn up under a government redevelopment plan, but has widened into a broader demonstration against Erdogan’s administration. Friday’s violence erupted after a dawn police raid on demonstrators who had been camped out for days.
“This isn’t just about trees anymore, 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, who came to support the protesters after reading on Twitter about the police use of tear gas.
Thousands chanting for the government to resign gathered at a park in the center 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.
A women was last night in critical condition after being hit by a police gas canister and underwent an operation after suffering a brain hemorrhage.
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 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”, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters.
Interior Minister Muammer Guler promised that allegations that police had used disproportionate force would be investigated.
Hundreds of military officers have been jailed for plotting a coup against Erdogan 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 Erdogan wearing an Ottoman emperor’s turban.
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.
Source: Al Manar