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Istanbul police confront protesters

May 1, 2017

Demonstrators had attempted to defy a government ban on holding events in the symbolic square. The confrontation occurred shortly after a new round of internationally-criticized sackings among the Turkish civil service.

Türkei 1. Mai Demonstration in Istanbul
Image: Reuters/M. Sezer

Turkish police confronted left-wing protesters on Monday who attempted to march to Taksim Square despite the government having sealed off the symbolic square for the third May Day in a row.

Only small numbers of labor union representatives were permitted to lay wreaths at a monument in the square. Major trade union organizations agreed to hold their demonstrations at government-approved spots in Istanbul.

Türkei 1. Mai Demonstration in Istanbul
Police fire on protesters who attempted to defy a Taksim Square banImage: Reuters/H. Aldemir

According to the AFP news agency, some 200 protesters in the Gayrettepe district wanted to defy the ban and walk to the square. They unfurled anti-government banners reading "Long Live May Day, No to the dictator!," alluding to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's expanded executive powers that resulted from an April 16 referendum

Police used tear gas and shot rubber pellets to disperse the group. Turkish state-run media reported that 13 individuals trying to access Taksim square were detained. However, AP reported some 70 individuals were detained. 

According to a statement from Istanbul's Govenor's Office, Turkish riot police detained 207 individuals across the entire city. 

Taksim holds a prominent position in the history of anti-government activism due to the 2013 Gezi Park sit-in, as well as due to the 1977 Taksim Square Massacre. On May Day of that year, an estimated 34 people were killed after shots were fired from a nearby building into a crowd.

Türkei 1. Mai Demonstration in Istanbul
Police detain May Day protesters Image: Reuters/K. Aslan

Crack downs ramp up

The confrontation comes on the heels of a new wave of sackings by the Turkish government and growing fears over freedom of speech repression and human rights abuses.

On Saturday, the government fired 3,974 officials and continued to block access to Wikipedia as a "protection measure." Ankara also recently extended the country's state of emergency.

Read more: Turkey suspends over 9,000 police officers with suspected links to Gulen

Ankara fires civil servants, blocks Wikipedia access

The government crackdown has drawn widespread international criticism, including from the United Nations (UN).

On Monday at a press conference in Geneva, UN Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein expressed concern over the recent events in Turkey.

"It is highly unlikely that the suspensions and detentions will have met due process standards," Zeid said.

He also commented on the imprisonment of journalists in Turkey, stating "Journalism is not a crime in Turkey, it is an issue the government must pay deep attention to."

Read more: Media freedom in danger

cmb/rt (Reuters, AP, AFP)