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Istanbul Saturday Mothers' vigil for missing broken up

August 25, 2018

Istanbul police have broken up the 700th weekly vigil by Turkish mothers demanding accountability for disappearances of relatives since the 1980s. Tear gas was fired and dozens were detained while defying a protest ban.

Riot police disperse Saturday Mothers' protests in Istanbul
Image: Getty Images/AFP/H. Tunc

Police dispersed a group known as "Saturday Mothers" as it headed for Istanbul's Galatasaray Square, prompting Human Rights Watch (HRW) to describe Saturday's incident as "cruel treatment of families seeking justice for state crimes."

One of those briefly held by police was an 82-year-old mother, Emine Ocak (pictured above), whose son Hasan disappeared in 1995 after being taken into custody, then aged 30.

Read more: Turkey's silent 'Standing Man' in 2013

The mothers – who have run regular vigils for decades – want an independent commission to look into the unexplained fate of relatives missing since Turkey's 1980 coup and during three decades of conflict centered on Turkey's mainly Kurdish southeast.

Activists say Turkey has never properly investigated the fates of those still missing.

Vigil prohibited

Istanbul's central Beyoglu district authority had banned Saturday's vigil, asserting that social media linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) has been used by organizers - a claim denied by Saturday Mothers as a group.

From 1999 until 2009, police repeatedly intervened to hinder vigils but in more recent years had kept only a watchful presence – until Saturday's use of water cannon and tear gas.

Coughing shoppers were sighted in Istanbul's busy precinct, reported the newspaper Cumhuriyet.

People in a crowded street flee a cloud of tear gas
People dispersed as police fired tear gasImage: picture-alliance/dpa/abaca/DHA/Ä. Mase

Parliamentarians took part

Turkish lawyer Efkan Bolac wrote on Twitter that 47 people had been detained and were being released after giving statements to police.

Read more: Argentina's Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo

Also participating in Saturday's attempted vigil were parliamentarians of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) and the pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party (HDP).

Economic woes

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who in 2011 as then-prime minister met members of Saturday Mothers, was focused Saturday on economic woes.

In his first comments in days on the Turkish lira's slump, Erdogan called on Turks to "resist attacks against the Turkish economy."

It was up to "every member of our nation to protect their independence, nation and the future," he asserted.

Police in riot gear disperse protesters
It was the Saturday Mothers' 700th protest, police used water cannon and tear gas to disperse the protestersImage: picture-alliance/dpa/abaca/DHA/Ä. Mase

ipj/ng (dpa, AFP)