FRANCE 24: Scores injured as police clash with protesters in Istanbul

Scores of people were injured on Friday after Turkish police fired tear gas, pepper spray and water cannons at demonstrators occupying a park in Istanbul over plans for a major construction project.

Riot police fired tear gas and water cannons at hundreds of demonstrators on Friday, injuring scores in a bid to break up a four-day protest against a major construction project in Istanbul’s iconic Taksim Square.

Several of the injured were left lying on the ground unconscious after police used tear gas and pepper spray on them, an AFP photographer witnessed.

More than a hundred people were injured, FRANCE 24’s Turkey correspondent, Jasper Mortimer, said. Two protestors 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.

In skirmishes with the police, some of the protestors shouted: “You are killing us!” and hurled rocks at the security forces.

The gas infiltrated the subway and 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,” tweeted one protestor using the handle @blogcuanne. “Kids, babies, the old, tourists, nobody matters.”

“The police have been blocking the streets leading into the square, driving the protestors back with tear gas,” Mortimer said. “At one stage I counted 13 tear gas canisters fired in one street in 60 seconds.”

He said that the demonstrations, which began as protests by fringe groups, have now drawn in wider society; “middle of the road people who are indignant about the plan to build over a rare patch of greenery in the city centre and also indignant against the police action [taken against protestors].”

The demonstrations have gone from being a protest about destroying Taksim Square to a protest about AKP party rule, Mortimer added. “The government may have miscalculated,” he said.

‘Soulless,’ controversial project

Construction 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.

Thousands have voiced their support for the protestors on social media in recent days, while Amnesty International issued a statement on Thursday condemning use of “excessive force against peaceful protestors.”

Reporters Without Borders urged Turkish authorities on Friday to contain the harsh police action against the protestors and claimed that journalists were falling victim to “targeted attacks” as they tried to cover the unrest.

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, a shopping mall is to be built.

“Do whatever you want, we have decided,” Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday, in remarks that showed the government would not abandon the project.

“That remark made people very angry,” Mortimer said, adding that actors, well-known journalists, TV personalities and five opposition MPs from different parties were seen protesting in the square.

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 country more conservative.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

31 May 2013