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Turkish police fire teargas against Istanbul protesters

The prime minister's warning appeared to fall on deaf ears as police fired teargas to disperse protesters at Taksim square

Published: Updated:

Turkish police on Saturday used teargas in central Istanbul to disperse protesters seeking to mark the one-year anniversary of the start of the biggest anti-government demonstrations in decades.

Several hundred people gathered on streets leading to Taksim Square, shouting for the government’s resignation, when police fired teargas at the crowd, which quickly scattered, Reuters reported.

Riot police also used gas and water cannon to disperse around 1,000 protesters in the capital Ankara.

Anniversary protests in Istanbul

Earlier on Sunday, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned that authorities would clamp down on anyone defying a ban on demonstrations.

“If you go there, our security forces have received clear-cut instructions and will do whatever is necessary from A to Z,” Erdogan told thousands of supporters at an Istanbul rally earlier on Saturday, Agence France-Presse reported.

Infographic: Turkish police crackdown on protesters
Infographic: Turkish police crackdown on protesters

He added: “You will not be able to take to [Taksim] like you did last year because you are obliged to abide by the laws... If you do not, the state will do whatever is necessary for its security.”

Erdogan’s government deployed thousands of riot police and police in civilian clothes to enforce a ban on protests at Taksim Square, the epicenter of last year’s demonstrations, an AFP reporter said.

Reuters also reported that Turkey’s police shut Gezi Park located next to Taksim Square. Riot police circled the perimeter of Gezi, and hundreds of plainclothes officers carrying batons patrolled Istiklal, a major shopping street that leads to Taksim as well as a popular tourist spot.

There was no sign of unrest at midday. Taksim Solidarity, one of the main organizers of last year’s protest movement, called for a rally at Taksim at 7 p.m. (1600 GMT).

Forceful eviction

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 raze the green space and build a shopping mall.

The park is one of the last green spaces in Istanbul’s Beyoğlu district and one of the smallest parks of the Turkish capita.

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 about two weeks before authorities finally cleared the space. Many complained of what they saw as growing authoritarianism after Erdogan’s decade in office.

Erdogan on Friday urged young Turks to ignore the call to stage a protest to mark the anniversary of a movement that began last year as a neighborhood bid to save Gezi Park, adjacent to Taksim Square, from real estate developers.

Last year’s protests mushroomed into a revolt against Erdogan’s rule.

Following a deadly police crackdown, the protests swelled into an outpouring of anger against the perceived authoritarian tendencies of the Islamic-rooted government.

“One year later, people, including so-called artists, are calling for demonstrations, but you, Turkey’s youth, you will not respond to the call,” Erdogan told a crowd of a thousand young people in Istanbul.

“These terrorist organizations manipulated our morally and financially weak youth to attack our unity and put our economy under threat,” Erdogan said.

Meanwhile, the country’s opposition leader urged the authorities to let people peacefully protest.

“Let the young people protest as they want. They are peaceful, they can’t harm anyone. What will you achieve with all these bans,?” said Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP).

Tensions grew when a 64-year-old woman who fell into a coma after inhaling tear gas during last year’s protests died this week at an Istanbul hospital.

A total of eight people died and thousands were wounded as a result of the crackdown on the protests, which turned into the largest challenge to Erdogan since his party came to power in 2002.


(With AFP and Reuters)