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Turkish PM to meet Taksim Square protestors

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Turkish PM to meet Taksim Square protestors
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Istanbul: Turkey’s Prime Minister is scheduled to meet with a group of activists protesting over re-development of Taksim park that has sparked the country’s biggest anti-government protests in decades.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s talks will come after clashes between police and protesters at Istanbul’s Taksim Square lasted into the early hours of Wednesday. Police also used tear gas to disperse protests in the capital, Ankara.

Mr. Erdogan has warned that he will put an end to the gatherings, which he says are hurting Turkey’s image and economy.

Riot police fired tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets in day-long clashes that lasted into the early hours on Wednesday, battling protesters who have been occupying Istanbul’s central Taksim Square and its adjacent Gezi Park in the country’s most severe anti-government protests in decades.

Throughout the protests, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has maintained a defiant tone, insisting he would not be bowed by what he described as a vocal minority. On Tuesday, as police clashed with protesters in Taksim, he insisted again that the unrest was part of a conspiracy against his government.

The demonstrators, he said, are being used by some financial institutions, the interest rate lobby and media groups to (harm) Turkey’s economy and (scare away) investments.

A peaceful demonstration against the park’s redevelopment that began more than two weeks ago has grown into the biggest test of Mr. Erdogan’s authority, sparked by outrage over a violent police crackdown on May 31 against a peaceful sit-in in the park.

Four people have been killed, including a policeman, and about 5,000 have been treated for injuries or the effects of tear gas, according to the Turkish Human Rights Foundation.

Thousands of police moved in early on Tuesday, pushing past improvised barricades set up by the protesters who have swarmed through the massive Square and park in the tens of thousands for the past 12 days.

Police fired repeated rounds of tear gas that rose in stinging plumes of acrid smoke from the Square in running battles with groups of protesters hurling fireworks, bottles, rocks and firebombs in a cat-and-mouse game that lasted through the day and into the night.

More than 30,000 converged on the Square again as dusk fell and were repelled by water cannon, rubber bullets and tear gas after Istanbul’s governor, Huseyin Avni Mutlu, said the police came under attack from “marginal groups.”

By the early hours of Wednesday, cleanup crews had moved into Taksim Square, clearing the debris and dismantling the makeshift shelters the protesters had set up.

Protesters set up barricades of metal railings and smashed vehicles at the edge of the square leading into Gezi Park, where hundreds returned despite repeated rounds of tear gas being fired into their midst. Fearing injury, many protesters scrawled their blood type on their forearms with marker pens.

The area reverberated with the echoes of exploding tear gas canisters into the night, while volunteers ferried the injured to waiting ambulances.

Gezi Park, with its thousands of camped-out demonstrators young and old, has become the symbol of the protests. Both the governor and the police initially promised that only Taksim Square would be cleared, not the park.

But late into the night, the governor indicated a more muscular police sweep was imminent.

In the capital, Ankara, police fired water cannon and tear gas to disperse several hundred protesters some throwing stones who gathered in sympathy with their Istanbul counterparts. In the early hours of Wednesday, police moved in to Kugulu Park where protesters had been camping. They made dozens of protesters pack up their tents, and arguments broke out with those unwilling to move.

“Were we supposed to kneel before them and say, ‘Please remove your pieces of rags?’” he asked, referring to the dozens of banners and flags the protesters had festooned in the square. “They can call me harsh, but this Tayyip Erdogan won’t change.”

AP

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