Riot police fired tear gas at hundreds of demonstrators, injuring dozens in a bid to break up a four-day protest against a major construction project in Istanbul’s Taksim Square.
Several of the injured were left lying on the ground unconscious after police used tear gas and pepper spray on them, while two people were admitted to hospital with injuries to the head.
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.
He said that an investigation was under way and 63 people had been detained for “provoking violence.”
Two protesters suffered broken arms and several others had minor bone fractures when a scaffolding collapsed as they tried to escape the police intervention on the square.
The gas infiltrated the subway and floated through the windows of passing cars, as ambulances arrived to carry away those affected, including two activist lawmakers.
“They are spraying anybody like it is pesticide,” one protester tweeted. “Kids, babies, the old, tourists, nobody matters.”
Demonstrators have been trying to prevent workers from razing Taksim Excursion Park, which lies across from the square’s centrepiece, the Ataturk monument.
In place of the park, the last stand of trees in the highly commercialised area, a shopping centre is to be built and an Ottoman-era barracks will be restored.
Mayor Kadir Topbas said many among the protesters were people who “genuinely care for the trees and the environment,” but that they were being manipulated by those with “political agendas.”
The park is part of a wider construction project that began in November to pedestrianise the zone surrounding the square, a traditional gathering point for rallies and protests as well as a popular tourist destination.
The controversial project is aimed at easing the chronic congestion in the roads around the square as well as giving the site a facelift.
But critics say the scheme will turn the square into yet another soulless, concrete commercial zone while driving away residents.
Muammer Guler, the interior minister, said government was looking into the claims of the use of disproportionate force, without elaborating.
Edited by Chris Irvine, telegraph.co.uk
31 May 2013