News Column

Turkish Police, Protesters Renew Stand-Off

June 11, 2013

Turkish police fired tear gas at a group of about 10,000 anti-government protesters who had rallied again Tuesday night in Istanbul's Taksim Square, witnesses said, hours after authorities' lattest try at clearing the square.

The action came after numerous arrests and injuries were reported when police and anti-government protesters clashed Tuesday morning in the square, with authorities deploying tear gas, water cannon and armoured vehicles to clear demonstrators.

Police had moved in from the city's Besiktas district in the early morning, when only a few thousand demonstrators remained on the square after more than a week of occupation.

Istanbul's Taksim Square has become the centre of recent anti-government protests, which started as a demonstration against a building project in the square's Gezi Park but have since grown into widespread condemnation of the government's conservative policies.

Although many of the protesters scattered after the morning clash, many reconnected online and vowed to return. Initially, as they approached in the evening, police backed off, standing to one side of the square.

The police focus on fighting back the Taksim Quare protests reverses a June 1 withdrawal from the area. It comes a day after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had reportedly offered talks with the protesters, initially set for Wednesday.

After the morning clash, authorities reported a few injuries, while a doctors' association said there were several hundred injured. Multiple ambulances could be seen at the square.

Police stormed Istanbul's central Caglayan court after lawyers began an anti-Erdogan protest. Video footage showed fighting as onlookers booed the action. At least 44 demonstrating lawyers were taken away.

The Turkish lawyers' association protested the arrests, arguing that its members had simply been demanding an investigation into alleged police brutality during the recent stand-off between police and protesters.

"Turkish police have fired their tear gas guns directly at people during the demonstrations of the last days. They have used it like a projectile weapon. That's why there are so many severe injuries," association president Metin Feyzioglu told dpa.

He said lawyers were simply trying to make prosecutors aware. Instead, he said, they had security forces used against them.

"There were terrible scenes," he said, noting that the association was working to get the lawyers freed.

Erdogan defended the latest police use of force before the renewed clashes Tuesday evening.

In a televised speech to members of his ruling conservative Islamic Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Ankara, Erdogan paid tribute to the police leadership and accused demonstrators of widespread vandalism during the course of the two-week occupation of the square and park.

"We won't just end these protests. We will pursue provocateurs and terrorists. No one will escape," he said. "What should we have done? Kneeled down in front of these people and asked them to please remove their banners?"

Erdogan called the demonstrations a foreign-aided attempt to force Turkey economically to its knees and intimidate investors.

"Erdogan hasn't understood anything," said one protester at Taksim Square. "I was afraid it would come to this."

Details about the day's events remained unclear. Broadcast images showed people throwing Molotov cocktails at police.

According to the daily Hurriyet newspaper, opposition members said via Twitter that those attacking the police had not been present among the demonstrators up until that point. Other images showed the firebomb throwers holding walkie-talkies, fueling speculation that they were government agents sent in to deliberately provoke a fight.

Hurriyet reported that there had been numerous similar claims of undercover police inciting violence all morning.

Istanbul Governer Huseyin Avni Mutlu wrote on Twitter that the purpose of the operation was only to remove banners from a monument to Kemal Ataturk, Turkey's first president, and the Ataturk Cultural Centre.

Police would not move into Gezi Park - situated within the square - where thousands of demonstrators have camped out, he said, while asking the demonstrators to remain calm and not provoke police.

Police used construction machinery to clear barricades that protesters had fashioned from metal parts from a construction site on Taksim Square, abandoned police barrier fences and vandalized cars.

Protesters have accused Erdogan of exercising authoritarian rule and seeking to impose Islamic values on a secular country.

Three protesters and one police officer have been killed in the protests so far.

Source: Copyright 2013 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH

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