Thursday 23 November 2017

Petrol bombs and tear gas as the battle for Taksim rages on

Justin Vela and  Ediz Tiyansan Istanbul

TURKISH police attempted to clear Taksim Square of demonstrators using tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets as the prime minister warned he would show "no more tolerance" for mass protests against his government.

Riot squads stormed the square, removed protesters' banners and tried to use bulldozers to clear their barricades, only to be resisted by youths throwing stones, Molotov cocktails and fireworks.

A mobile telecommunications van in the square – the centre of almost two weeks of unrest – was set on fire as demonstrators shouted: "Resistance!"

An all-day battle ensued, which was still raging last night.

The police action surprised protesters, coming hours after Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the prime minister, had agreed to hold peace talks – his first major concession since the trouble began.

By last night police were also laying siege to neighbouring Gezi Park, where many of the protesters continued to camp.

The nationwide unrest began after police fired tear gas at campaigners fighting save the park from redevelopment.

BULLETS

Mr Erdogan was typically combative over yesterday's action. "They say the prime minister is rough – so what was going to happen?" he told parliament.

"Were we going to kneel down in front of these people? If you call this roughness, I'm sorry, but this Tayyip Erdogan won't change."

He added: "This episode is now over. We won't show any more tolerance."

The clashes cast doubt over prospects for today's talks between protest organisers and Mr Erdogan that were arranged in an attempt to end the 12-day crisis.

Police had already forcibly broken up sympathy sit-ins in cities across Turkey before moving into Taksim Square at about 7.30am.

A witness, who would only give the name Murat, said: "The violence they used was completely unproportional.

"As they were clearing the area, they fired at people in close range, from only five to six metres away, with plastic bullets and tear gas.

"We didn't expect them to stage yet another brutal raid, especially when there are talks of so-called dialogue."

A small number of protesters threw rocks and Molotov cocktails at the police, who retaliated with water cannon and tear gas.

In the early afternoon, police also briefly entered Gezi Park in a display of force, despite earlier promises from authorities that they would not do so.

Ozge Celik (32) said she arrived in Taksim as police began to remove protesters' banners.

Istanbul Medical Chamber said there had been at least nine injuries caused by rubber bullets during the operation.

Soli Ozel, a professor at Istanbul's Kadir Has University, said Mr Erdogan was making a distinction between the two by clearing Taksim, but leaving protesters in Gezi Park.

"Quite frankly, you cannot keep the most important public space in the country in this state forever," he said.

"The symbol of the demonstrations is in Gezi, not in Taksim." Three people have died and more than 5,000 have been injured since the protests began.

More than 50 lawyers were detained outside the Caglayan Court House yesterday.

The Ankara Bar Association said they were detained while issuing a press statement about the protests. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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