12 people have been seriously injured and hundreds suffered respiratory problems after police attacked protesters with tear gas and water cannon in an attempt to break up an Occupy Gezi Park rally in central Istanbul.
The clashes erupted after police carried out a dawn raid against protesters Friday, the second in as many days. Demonstrators are angry at government plans to cut down trees in Gezi Park, next to Taksim Square, to make way for a replica Ottoman army barracks and a shopping mall. They say it is the last green space of any size in the center of Istanbul.
Six of the injured are suffering from serious head trauma. A 34-year old Egyptian tourist is undergoing an operation after suffering a brain hemorrhage, Huseyin Demirduzen, from the Istanbul Medical Chamber board, told Reuters. While a member of the opposition Peace and Democratic Party is in intensive care in a serious condition.
Hundreds more suffered respiratory problems due to the effects of tear gas, Demirduzen said. Several people were injured after a wall they were trying to climb in an attempt to get away from clouds of tear gas collapsed underneath them.
Late Wednesday the main opposition leader, Kemal Kilicdaroglu from the Republic People’s Party (CHP) made a surprise visit to the protest camp of several hundred demonstrators and promised that members of his party would take turns to help the protesters stop an attempt to bring back the bulldozers.
In the first raid against crowds on Thursday, police used a Mass Incident Intervention Vehicle (TOMA) to disperse them before seizing and burning some of their tents, according to the Hurriyet Daily News.
The Peace and Democracy Party described the police intervention as “state terror” in an e-mailed statement. Amnesty International also said it was concerned with “the use of excessive force” by police after what started as a peaceful protest.
The protest at Gezi Park started on Monday after developers tore up trees but has now become a broader demonstration against Prime Minster Tayyip Erdogan’s Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP).
“This isn’t about trees anymore; it’s about all of the pressure we’re under from this government. We’re fed up; we don’t like the direction the country is headed in,” Mert Burge, an 18 year-old student, who came to support the protesters after he heard about the use of tear gas via twitter, told Reuters.
In Ankara, the Turkish capital, police also used tear gas to disperse protesters trying to reach the headquarters of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in support of the anti-government supporters in Istanbul.
Erdogan has said he wants to introduce an Ottoman cultural revival. As well as a more assertive foreign policy, more conservative policies are also being gradually introduced at home. He is also authorizing a slew of multi-billion dollar projects aimed at reflecting Turkey’s reemergence as a major power including a third airport in Istanbul, which will be one the world’s biggest and a shipping canal as big as the Suez or Panama canals.
Tayyip Erdogan defended the decision concerning the Gezi Park, saying “Whatever you do, we’ve made our decision and we will implement it, we will revive history there.” Although the government has denied that the mall is part of the plan, insisting it needs the space to widen a nearby road and ease traffic congestion, according to RTE News.
While the Istanbul deputy of Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) Sirin Unal tweeted his support of the police’s heavy-handed response.
“Obviously there are some people in need of gas. If you leave there [Taksim Square] I hope you will have a good day, the system needs to be obeyed,” he wrote.
On May Day police clashed with tens of thousands of demonstrators in Istanbul and there have been several smaller protests against a tightening of alcohol sales and displays of public affection as well the government’s stance on the neighboring Syria conflict.