Erdogan Cracks Down In Istanbul
Turkish police are cracking down on the protesters gathered in Istanbul:
ISTANBUL — A large force of riot police entered Taksim Square early on Tuesday, firing tear gas grenades and using water cannons to disperse demonstrators who have occupied the square for more than a week as part of a protest to save a nearby park that the government wants to develop.
Television footage of the ongoing operation showed protesters hurling stones and Molotov cocktails at police vehicles as security officers responded with tear gas.
It appeared that relatively few protesters were in the square as the police moved in and many retreated to the park. News reports said some protesters clashed with security forces, however, hurling rocks and firebombs.
Huseyin Avni Mutlu, the governor of Istanbul, said in a Twitter message that the police would remove banners and posters. He said activists who have been occupying Gezi Park for more than two weeks would not be affected.
“Gezi Park and Taksim will never be touched. This morning you are in the safe hands of your police brothers,” he said.
“Young people, please, stop hurling stones,” a police officer announced over a loudspeaker. “We are not going to touch Gezi Park.”
Live television showed at least eight protesters standing behind metal shields against the pressure of water cannons, and CNN Turk reported that some demonstrators in Gezi Park tried to persuade others outside to stop throwing rocks at the police. Other footage showed hundreds of activists camping inside the park wearing gas masks and swimming goggles and spraying soothing liquids into the eyes and mouths of people affected by the tear gas around Taksim Square.
The operation came a day after the government appeared to change tactics and Turkey’s prime minister agreed to meet with leaders of the protest movement whose opposition to the razing of the park was a catalyst for violent antigovernment demonstrations nationwide that began more than a week ago and escalated into a political crisis.
The meeting between the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and the protest leaders is scheduled for Wednesday, said Bulent Arinc, a deputy prime minister and government spokesman.
Three people were killed and more than 2,300 injured in the violence, which revealed some deep-seated resentment toward Mr. Erdogan. Although he has widespread support across much of Turkey, the protests presented him with one of the biggest political challenges since he became Turkey’s leader a decade ago.
The protests were originally intended as an environmental demonstration meant to save Gezi Park, in the heart of Taksim Square, which the government intends to develop. They escalated when riot police officers used tear gas and water cannons to disperse participants in what even some government officials conceded was an overly harsh response.
The protesters later widened their grievances into a broad rebuke of what they consider the authoritarian style of Mr. Erdogan and his political party, which is supported by religious conservatives in Turkey. The protesters have demanded the resignation of governors and security chiefs in Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir, the punishment of abusive police officers and the release of people detained in the protests. Some have called for Mr. Erdogan to resign.
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Police took down large banners that had been hung by protesters on a building on the edge of the square. They replaced them with a large Turkish flag and a banner with a picture of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the beloved founder of the secular republic 89 years ago after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.
Huseyin Avni Mutlu, the governor for Istanbul, said in a message issued on his Twitter account that the police operation was to dismount the banners hung on the building and at a monument on the square. He said people occupying the park at the square would not be touched.
As police clashed with activists near a side of the square where construction has already started, bulldozers and garbage trucks began cleaning up some of the barricades on the square. A group of protesters were seen at another corner of the square, apparently trying to negotiate with police.
Some protesters were seen trying to build another small barricade on the square but were repelled by tear gas.
People coming off the metro in the middle of the square ran for cover. Protesters offered them antacid solution in bottles of spray to help protect them from the gas.
The government announced after a Cabinet meeting late Monday that Erdogan would meet with some of the peaceful Gezi Park protesters but that authorities would not allow “illegal” demonstrations to continue.
A statement from Mutlu’s office said Monday the banners of various groups taking part in the protests were making the square look as though it was under “occupation” and was “negatively affecting our country’s image in the eyes of the world opinion and leading to reaction from within the society.”
Before the police action, the protests appeared to be on the wane with the smallest number of demonstrators in the past 12 days gathering in Taksim on Monday night. The protesters occupying Gezi Park had remained, however.
Smaller protests occurred in Ankara too, with about 5,000 people demonstrating. Police there have used water cannon and tear gas to break up demonstrations almost every night.
It’s unclear whether protesters will still agree to meet with Erdogan now that he has taken this step. Additionally, it seems likely that all this crackdown will really accomplish is to re-energize protests that, according to reports, were starting to wane in recent days. Now, Erdogan has probably guarantee that they’ll be around for some time to come.