The Turkish Police Crackdown On Protests Has Clearly Backfired

TurkeyRiot police use tear gas to disperse the crowd during an anti-government protests at Taksim Square in central Istanbul May 31, 2013.

Protests in Turkey continued for the fourth straight day on Monday.

And for the fourth straight day, Turkish police were on the offensive.

The violence prompted U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to express concern about “reports of excessive use of force by police” on peaceful protestors, days after human rights groups condemned the crackdown.

A 20-year-old man has been killed during the unrest, and there are several reports that human rights activist Ethem Sarisuluk is brain dead after being attacked by police.

Medical sources tell Al Jazeera that hundreds of people have been injured in clashes with riot police, and some of the images that appear to show wounded protesters are downright grizzly (warning: very graphic link).

Authorities have mostly employed water cannons and various forms of tear gas — along with proactive use of batons — to control the crowds, but the aggression seems to have had the opposite effect.

turkeyRiot police fire tear gas against protesters during a demonstration in Ankara June 3, 2013.

On Monday Turkey’s Public Workers Unions Confederation (KESK) announced it would hold a “warning strike” on June 4-5 to protest at the crackdown, which means that people will continue to flood the streets during the work week.

The turmoil began Friday when a peaceful demonstration against the removal of trees from a public park in Istanbul’s Taksim Square — a popular gathering place for the country’s labour movement — transformed into a nationwide show of defiance against Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP).

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has dismissed the protestors — whom he called “looters,” “bums,” and “extremists” — and has vowed to go forward with plans to demolishing the park and build a mall in its place.

Erdogan, facing the fiercest protests since he assumed office in 2003, accused the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) of inciting the demonstrations.

But Ayla Jean Yackley of Reuters notes that the protesters come from a wide range of political backgrounds.

Here’s a short report by Reuters that captures the intensity on the ground:

Luke Rodeheffer, a graduate student and analyst focusing on Eurasian geopolitics, told us that “the amount of tear gas being used is insane,” noting that noxious clouds have been wafting from the Beşiktaş neighbourhood of Istanbul into the surrounding areas.

He has provided us with this update from Turkey’s largest city (emphasis ours):

As night fell in Istanbul, protesters continue to crowd Taksim square and Gezi Park, the park whose planned demolition had sparked demonstrations, cheering, defiantly displaying the Turkish flag, and demanding the government’s resignation.

Stores along the central boulevard of Istiklal were open for business Monday morning as workers struggled to remove the broken glass and graffiti resulting from the city centre being abandoned by police, while protesters representing various groups continued to march along the street.

A few kilometers away, however, the area around the neighbourhood of Beşiktaş and Dolmabahçe Avenue continues to be flooded with tear gas amid pitched street battles between protesters and riot police, a scene that has repeated itself for the past several evenings, with demonstrators blocking armoured police vehicles using hastily constructed blockades and dodging tear gas canisters.

The clashes have yielded some incredible scenes: last night, protesters managed to highjack a bulldozer, forcing police to flee and reaching 500 meters of the Prime Minister’s office in Istanbul.

Neighborhoods around the city echo with the sound of pots and pans being drummed in support of the protests.

The unrest in Turkey continues to gain international attention: the U.S. Ambassador to Turkey, Francis Ricciardone, canceled an upcoming trip to Turkey as a result of the violence as the U.S. Embassy issued a warning to U.S. citizens in Turkey about the ongoing conflict.

The Hacker organisation Anonymous launched a series of attacks on the websites of the ruling AKP party, the Turkish President, and a variety of Turkish news organisations accused of ignoring the unrest, pledging to “bring the Turkish government to its knees.”

Erdoğan, the Prime Minister, who has just left for Morocco, has remained defiant.

He has labelled the social media networks that have been utilized during the protests a “danger to society,” and today made the extraordinary claim that “foreign powers” were potentially behind the protests, calling for an investigation by Turkish intelligence.

Judging by the scene at Taksim square as of late Monday, it doesn’t seem like the people are backing down either.



turkeyA demonstrator waves a Turkish flag during an anti-government protest at Taksim Square in central Istanbul June 3, 2013.

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