Turkish police on Saturday used water cannons to scatter thousands of people who had gathered in Taksim Square here to commemorate four people killed during the nationwide antigovernment protests that have gripped Turkey for more than two weeks.
Representatives of the peaceful protesters read a statement of their demands before turning to Gezi Park, the center of a campaign to save the only green patch in Istanbul’s center. But that environmental campaign has quickly blossomed into a protest against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s autocratic and dismissive reaction toward the protesters.
A few activists, representing Taksim Solidarity, an umbrella group, left red carnations at the entrance to Gezi Park, which has been blocked by the police since last Saturday. Some members of the crowd threw carnations at police vehicles or attached them to their wired windows.
The police warned the crowd to disperse, but the protesters refused to leave Taksim Square and chanted antigovernment slogans. Dozens of police officers then moved toward the crowd and began spraying the protesters with water cannons. For the first time in more than 20 days, the police did not use tear gas to force protesters away from Taksim Square. But the police did fire it at protesters on some side streets and at least one entrance to the square.
“I was not standing on the road, which the police asked us to clear, so I thought I should be fine,” said Gonul Duzer, a 24-year-old student, as she held red carnations in her hand. “I wanted to hand these to them, but instead they pushed me away with their shields and said our right to protest was over.”
Ms. Duzer’s friend who was visiting from Indianapolis watched as reinforcements joined the police around Gezi Park and at intersections in Taksim.
“It’s pretty shocking,” said the friend, Matt Foreman, 24. “So many things are modern in this country, but then something like this just doesn’t fit in that picture.”
Demonstrators and passers-by sought shelter in nearby cafes that sealed off their windows, in case the police used tear gas, and emptied terraces overlooking the square.
“As soon as the police put on their gas masks, I knew that they were coming on us,” said a 66-year-old woman who gave her name only as Tulin, and who showed the bruises on her legs from a previous confrontation with the police. “I’ve learned it by now.”
On Saturday, Mr. Erdogan claimed that the protests were carried out “with malicious intentions.”
“You became the pawns in a dirty game and were deceived gravely,” he said, according to the semiofficial Anatolian news agency, referring to young activists who have been attending protests in more than 60 cities.
“Nobody but God will have the power to overthrow our government,” Mr. Erdogan said at a rally in Samsun, a town on the Black Sea coast.
Mr. Erdogan claimed that the same unspecified international forces that he said had been trying to unsettle his government were behind the recent riots in Brazil.
“The same game is now played on Brazil,” the prime minister said, pointing to the use of social media networks as organizing tools for protesters and the coverage of the events in the international media.
“Symbols, banners, Twitter, international media — they are all trying their best to accomplish what they could not in Turkey in Brazil. They say, ‘Freedom — now.’ ”
In front of one of the five-star hotels in Taksim, a popular destination for tourists, who fuel one of the leading industries in Turkey, a group of people chanted: “Police! Do not betray your people!”
Late into Saturday night, the police continued to confront small pockets of protesters around Taksim, and dozens of officers maintained their position around the square.
In Ankara, the capital, where protests, and a heavy police response, continued Saturday, 23 people were arrested and formally charged with organizing protests and inflicting violence on behalf of an organization, reported CNN Turk, a private news television network.
As of Saturday, another 32 people had been arrested in connection with protests in Istanbul, a lawyer and a member of the Istanbul Bar Association said.
Sebnem Arsu, 22 June 2013