Istanbul protest turns violent, dozens injured
A protestor throws back a canister of tear gas to Turkish riot policemen during a protest against the demolition of Taksim Gezi Park on Friday. AFP Photo
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A protest by Turkish activists against the cutting down of trees in the center of Taksim Square in Istanbul turned violent on Friday night as riot police used tear gas and water cannon to break up protesters.
The protest turned into a broader showdown as angry protesters chanted: “Government resign!” according to local Turkish media reports.
Thousands of people across the country poured into the streets in solidarity with the Taksim protesters, a sign of growing anger against Erdogan’s government, seen as increasingly authoritarian.
A cloud of tear gas blanketed the square after hours of running battles with police.
Dozens were injured in the demonstration against plans to raze a park across from the square to build a shopping mall.
The injured were left lying on the ground unconscious after police used tear gas and pepper spray on them, while two people were hospitalized with injuries to the head, AFP news agency reported.
In the most severe case, a Turkish national of Moroccan origin had to undergo brain surgery after fractures to her skull, but she was doing well in intensive care, according to governor Huseyin Avni Mutlu.
Mutlu put the number of people being treated in nearby hospitals at 12, but Amnesty International said more than 100 protesters were reportedly injured in the clashes.
Mutlu also said in televised remarks that an investigation was under way and 63 people had been detained for “provoking violence”.
An Istanbul court ordered the suspension of the construction project late Friday, but it was not immediately clear whether this would lead to the scrapping of the plans.
Meanwhile, protests erupted in the capital, Ankara, and the Aegean coastal city of Izmir, according to Reuters news agency.
Thousands were chanting for the government to resign gathered at a park in the center of Ankara, where police earlier fired teargas to disperse several dozen opposition supporters trying to reach the AKP headquarters.
The United States expressed concerns late Friday.
“We are concerned about the number of people who were injured when police dispersed protesters in Istanbul’s Gezi Park,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki said.
“We believe that Turkey’s long-term stability, security and prosperity is best guaranteed by upholding the fundamental freedoms of expression, assembly and association, which is what it seems these individuals were doing,” she said.
Two protestors suffered broken arms and several others had minor bone fractures when scaffolding collapsed as they tried to escape the police intervention on the square.
In skirmishes with the police, some of the protesters shouted: “You are killing us!” and hurled rocks at the security forces, according to AFP.
The gas infiltrated the subway and drifted into passing cars as ambulances arrived to carry away those affected.
“They are spraying anybody like it is pesticide,” tweeted one protestor using the handle @blogcuanne. “Kids, babies, the old, tourists, nobody matters.”
Mehmet Baransu, a journalist from the Taraf daily, tweeted that the park protests were not just about the trees, but government’s “fait accompli, I do and you can’t talk” rhetoric.
Thousands have voiced support for the protesters on social media in recent days, while Amnesty International urged Turkey to “halt brutal police repression” and investigate abuse claims.
Interior Minister Muammer Guler said the government was looking into the claims of the use of disproportionate force, without elaborating.
The strong public reaction comes just days after a new law by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) that would restrict the sale and advertising of alcohol, a move that has angered many youngsters and fuelled anti-government sentiment in the country.
Erdogan’s populist government, in power for over a decade, is often accused of trying to make the predominantly Muslim but staunchly secular country more conservative.