Guardian: Turkish police fire teargas to quell protests after boy, 15, dies

Berkin Elvan has been in coma since June last year when he was hit by a teargas cartridge during anti-government protests in Istanbul

The coffin of Berkin Elvan is carried through Istanbul. He died in hospital today, nine months after being hit by a police teargas cartridge. Photograph: Emrah Gurel/AP

The coffin of Berkin Elvan is carried through Istanbul. He died in hospital today, nine months after being hit by a police teargas cartridge. Photograph: Emrah Gurel/AP

Fresh clashes between Turkish police and protesters have erupted in Istanbul and the capital, Ankara on Tuesday , after a 15-year-old boy died from a head injury sustained during anti-government protests last summer.

Berkin Elvan, then aged 14, was on his way to buy bread for his family when he got caught up in the street battles in Istanbul last June. He was hit in the head by a teargas cartridge fired by the police and had been in a coma ever since.

On Tuesday morning, police fired teargas to disperse protesters gathered outside the Istanbul hospital where Berkin died, after some people started throwing objects at an armoured police vehicle.

In Ankara, riot police used water cannon and teargas against a crowd of about 2,000 who blocked a highway to mourn the teenager’s death and to contest continued police impunity. In several cities, there were sit-ins and silent protests.

According to doctors, Berkin’s health had deteriorated gravely and his weight had dropped to 16kg (two and a half stone) in recent weeks.

Announcing his death on Twitter, Berkin’s parents wrote: “To our people: We lost our son Berkin Elvan at 7am this morning. Condolences to us all.” Gülsüm Elvan, the boy’s mother, expressed her anger towards the Turkish government: “Not God took my son away, but [Prime Minister Recep] Tayyip Erdoğan,” she said, according to the Turkish press.

President Abdullah Gül, who was the first senior politician to inquire after the teenager’s health on

Monday, publicly extended his condolences towards the family this morning.

“He was only 14 when the incident happened. I share the family’s sorrow,” Gül said.

Istanbul governor Hüseyin Avni Mutlu’s expression of regret at the “loss” on Twitter was met with outrage on social media. “We did not ‘lose’ Berkin; you killed him,” several people tweeted.

Throughout last June, hundreds of thousands took to the streets when an environmental protest aimed at saving an inner city park snowballed into a nationwide display of anger at Erdoğan’s increasingly authoritarian stance.

The teenager’s death raises the number of deaths from last summer’s protests to seven, at least four directly resulting from police violence. Turkish police have been accused of using excessive force against the protesters in Istanbul’s Gezi Park and in demonstrations that spread all over the country.

According to the Turkish Medical Association, about 8,000 people were injured as a result of the police’s heavy-handed interventions: 104 sustained serious head injuries and 11 lost an eye, mostly after being hit by plastic bullets fired by the police.

Rights groups have repeatedly condemned the use of excessive police violence during the protests. A Human Rights Watch dispatch published on Tuesday stressed that the firing of teargas directly at protesters violated international legal standards.

“The case of Berkin Elvan has become a symbol for Turkey‘s record of police violence and impunity,” said Emma Sinclair-Webb, a senior Turkey researcher for Human Rights Watch.

“The enormous outpouring of anger at these horrors is also due to the silence of the government on Berkin Elvan’s death and on this issue in general.”