Stop and stare: Turkey’s ‘Standing Man’ sparks protest buzz

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A man stood still in Istanbul's Taksim Square: silent, staring straight ahead, he had not moved for hours.

His peaceful action, on the square that police cleared of protesters on Saturday and where the Turkish authorities have banned gatherings, was a new form of protest.

He arrived Monday evening as night was falling and took up position in the middle of the square, just a stone's throw from Gezi Park.

Five hours on, the man was still there, hands in his pockets, a bag and some bottles of water at his feet.

He was staring at a portrait of the revered founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk that hangs from the top of the old cultural centre. Ataturk who established Turkey as a secular state.

Word spread quickly online: on Twitter, the hashtags #Duranadam and #standingman ran a steady stream of comments, together with some photos on the event.

Hundreds of people approached the square to see for themselves.

The man behind this 'happening' was choreographer Erdem Gunduz: his one-man protest was designed to get around the ban on gatherings in the square.

On Saturday, police used tear gas and water cannon to clear both the square and the park of thousands of demonstrators, depriving them of the symbolic heart of their protest.

It was a May 31 police crackdown on a peaceful protest against plans to redevelop the square that spiraled into nationwide demonstrations against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Islamic-rooted government.

Now police officers surround the square, preventing any further gatherings.

For this new protest to work, Gunduz's friends positioned themselves outside the square in a bid to prevent well-wishers trying to approach him.

"We want to protect him from any provocation," said one of them, Asma, a young Turkish woman, as she tried to keep the gathering onlookers back.

"He has to be alone in the middle of the square, otherwise the police will use the pretext of a gathering to clear everyone away," she explained.

Gradually, a human chain formed an immense circle around him. Some of the youths there began arguing over whether to join him or stay well clear, as Gunduz's friends wanted.

The choreographer's plan was to stay standing still there for a month, breaking every 24 hours for three hours' rest, while a friend took his place.

It was not long however before others joined in.

A group of youths took up position beside him, following his gaze towards Ataturk -- at which point the police moved in.

The Standing Man had time to leave, surrounded by a group of friends: others were not so lucky.

Officers detained around 10 youths in a police bus, as photographers recorded the event.

After they were driven from the square and the park on Saturday, members of the protest movement talked about the need to find new ways of getting their message across.

Erdem Gunduz appears to have done just that.

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