Riot police in Turkey have fired tear gas in a bid to break up hundreds of protesters who'd gathered in central Istanbul. The group is angry over a major construction project.
Dozens of people, including tourists, were wounded on Friday during the demonstrations in Istanbul's iconic Taksim Square. The violence began after a dawn raid by police on the demonstrators, who'd camped at the park for days in anger over plans to develop the area around the square.
The protest began late on Monday, but has developed into a broader demonstration against the Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) of Prime Minister Tayyip Recep Erdogan.
A number of protesters suffered broken bones, while others were hospitalized. Tear gas and pepper spray from police also infiltrated the local subway. A group of primary school children ran crying from the tear gas, while tourists scrambled to get into hotels that surround the square. "They are spraying anybody like it is pesticide," tweeted one demonstrator, Elif Dogan (@BlogcuAnne). "Kids, babies, the old, tourists, nobody matters."
Contruction around Taksim Square began last November to make the zone around the square more pedestrian-friendly, and there are also plans to build a shopping mall across from the square's centerpiece, the Ataturk monument, at Taksim Excursion park.
Those opposed are worried the development will unnecessarily modernize the area and turn it into a soulless, commercial zone and drive away residents. It is currently a traditional meeting point for rallies and protests, and a popular tourist destination.
"We do not have a government, we have Tayyip Erdogan...Even AK Party supporters are saying they have lost their mind, they are not listening to us," Koray Caliskan, a political scientist at Bosphorus University, told the news agency Reuters. "This is the beginning of a summer of discontent."
The group Reporters Without Borders also claimed on Friday that journalists were falling victim to "targeted attacks" as they tried to cover the unrest. The group urged authorities to contain the police action against protesters. On Thursday, Amnesty International issued a statement condemning use of "excessive force against peaceful protesters."
Unrest in Turkey
The riots are the latest in a series that began weeks ago after police clashed with tens of thousands of May Day protesters in Istanbul. It also comes days after a tightening of alcohol sales by the ruling AKP party, as well as warnings on public affection and protests against the government's stance on the conflict in neighboring Syria.
Erdogan's populist government, which has been in power for more than a decade, has often been accused of trying to make Turkey more conservative.
"This isn't just about trees anymore, it's about all of the pressure we're under from this government. We're fed up, we don't like the direction this country is headed in," said student Mert Burge. "We will stay here tonight and sleep on the street if we have to."
jr/mz (Reuters, AFP)