Istanbul police clear Gezi park of protesters
Clashes continued for hours after police stormed the chief redoubt of Turkish protesters on Saturday night, using tear gas and water cannon to flush them from Istanbul’s central Gezi park after the demonstrators refused to leave.
Tens of thousands of demonstrators, who complain that the government of prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is increasingly authoritarian, protested through the night at the government’s actions. Only a day earlier hopes had been raised of a peaceful end to the demonstrations.
Thousands of people took to the streets of Istanbul overnight on Sunday, erecting barricades and starting bonfires, after riot police firing teargas and water cannon stormed a park at the center of two weeks of anti-government unrest.
Lines of police backed by armored vehicles sealed off Taksim Square in the center of the city as officers raided the adjoining Gezi Park late on Saturday, where protesters had been camped in a ramshackle settlement of tents.
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan had warned hours earlier that security forces would clear the square, the center of more than two weeks of fierce anti-government protests that spread to cities across the country, unless the demonstrators withdrew before a ruling party rally in Istanbul on Sunday.
"We have our Istanbul rally tomorrow. I say it clearly: Taksim Square must be evacuated, otherwise this country's security forces know how to evacuate it," he told tens of thousands of flag-waving supporters at a rally in Ankara.
Protesters took to the streets in several neighborhoods across Istanbul following the raid on Gezi Park, ripping up metal fences, paving stones and advertising hoardings to build barricades and lighting bonfires of trash in the streets.
Some chanted, "Tayyip, resign."
Local television footage showed groups of demonstrators blocking a main highway to Ataturk airport on the western edge of the city, while to the east, several hundred walked towards a main bridge crossing the Bosphorus waterway towards Taksim.
Thousands more rallied in the working-class Gazi neighborhood, which saw heavy clashes with police in the 1990s, while protesters also gathered in Ankara around the central Kugulu Park, including opposition MPs who sat in the streets in an effort to prevent the police from firing teargas.
A main public-sector union confederation, KESK, which has some 240,000 members, said it would call a national strike for Monday, while a second union grouping said it was holding an emergency meeting to decide whether to join the action.
A Turkish public sector labor union has announced plans for a general strike on Monday, after Saturday’s events that included another police raid on Gezi Park.
A spokesman for the Public Workers Unions Confederation (KESK) told Reuters: "We had already taken a decision to go on strike if there was an intervention on the park. So tomorrow we will declare a strike for Monday." The organization lists 240,000 members in 11 unions.
Another group, called the Revolutionary Trade Unions (DISK) is also deliberating on whether to hold a strike, according to an official of theirs.
Police determined to clean the area from protesters, including those who took shelter in Divan hotel.
The ruling Justice and Development Party's (AKP) Spokeperson Huseyin Celik slammed the Taksim Solidarity Platform for not calling an end to their protest after meeting with Prime Minister Erdogan two days prior.
Celik continued that the police evacuation could not have waited until Sunday.
The Istanbul Governor’s office said 29 people had been injured after Turkish riot police moved in to clear Gezi Park, though none were in critical condition.
The police have fired water cannon and tear gas to drive away protesters from both Istanbul’s Taksim Square and Gezi Park, hours after Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan demanded the square to be “evacuated.” Protesters claim multiple injuries.
Several people have been taken away in ambulances after being loaded onto stretchers, RT reports from Istanbul.
The crowd, which had been chanting: "Everywhere is Taksim, everywhere is resistance," was sent scrambling by the police, the latest escalation of tensions in more than two weeks of mass anti-government demos.
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan warned protesters occupying a central Istanbul park that they should leave before a ruling party rally on Sunday or face eviction by the security forces.
"We have our Istanbul rally tomorrow. I say it clearly: Taksim Square must be evacuated, otherwise this country's security forces know how to evacuate it," Erdogan told tens of thousands of supporters at a rally in the capital Ankara.
Voice of Russia, Reuters, RT, AFP, Financial Times