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Peaceful May Day in Turkey leads to question of necessity of past bans

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News | 5/2/2010 12:00:00 AM | ŞAFAK TİMUR & ÖZGÜR ÖĞRET

Saturday's May Day festivities were full of joyful celebrating instead of violent clashes as Istanbul's Taksim Square was open to Labor Day rallies for the first time in 32 years. Union chiefs say the peaceful event shows that the restrictions and use of force in the past were unnecessary. 'Going to Taksim on May Day is bliss,' one worker says

The peaceful celebration Saturday of May Day in Istanbul’s Taksim Square after years of clashes between security forces, workers and political groups shows that the ban on assembling there was unnecessary, labor leaders say.

“Everybody saw that when there are no bans and limitations, there is no trouble at all,” Süleyman Çelebi, the chairman of the Confederation of Revolutionary Workers’ Unions, or DİSK, told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review on Sunday.

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The square, closed to such rallies after 1978, has had symbolic significance for workers and the political left since 1977, when it became the scene of a bloody massacre in which at least 34 people died.

In contrast, this year’s Labor and Solidarity Day gathering in Taksim welcomed hundreds of thousands of people joyfully dancing, chanting and celebrating the official holiday.

With police forces largely staying away from the square, and security left primarily up to the labor unions organizing the event, there was no repeat of clashes from years past.

[HH] Fruitful dialogue

“We told Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in 2007, 2008 and 2009, over and over again: Trouble would ensue only if there are bans,” Çelebi told the Daily News. “We could have experienced those May Days with the same joy and without any problems.”

The DİSK chief added that Saturday’s peaceful atmosphere in Taksim had been reflected to all of Turkey.

“For us, the most important thing was that there were different [political] groups with which we do not necessarily share the same opinions,” he said. “But since we had the dialogue in place, everybody was in agreement with the rules we came up with, a few individual actions notwithstanding.”

May Day rallies in the future will be equally peaceful, Çelebi said, adding, “We have arrived to this point as a result of a struggle.”

Hüseyin Esentürk, the Ankara president of the 78ers Foundation, said a Labor Day without negative incidents was only natural.

“It is clearly observed that fabricated expectations about incidents at May Day were not true,” he said. “There was no need to terrorize the people of Istanbul with police batons and tear gas as in previous years.”

When asked if the development might be a step toward shedding light on the 1977 deaths, Esentürk said: “The ones who should get the proper message from Saturday should get it.”

“I believe this is an opportunity to reveal who was behind the shadowy massacres of Turkey’s past,” he said. “We need to deal with our dark past to have a bright future.”

[HH] Tekel workers lead procession

The crowded procession Saturday by Türk-İş, Turkey’s biggest labor confederation, was led by the ex-workers of Tekel, the former tobacco and alcohol monopoly, who engaged in a weeks-long struggle in Ankara for better employee benefits earlier this year.

Süleyman Altan, a 38-year-old former Tekel worker, was among those who attended with their union brothers and sisters. “I brought my son Özay to teach him the struggle,” Altan said.

Members of the main opposition Republican People’s Party, or CHP, applauded Tekel workers as the two processions merged while approaching the square.

“May Day means the freedom of workers and labor and fraternity and peace for all workers,” said Ali Kaya, a 46-year-old captain in his uniform, carrying the banner of his labor union from the Unkapanı neighborhood to Taksim Square on Saturday morning.

“After more than 30 years, going to Taksim on May Day is bliss,” Kaya said.

The only violent incident at Taksim occurred when Türk-İş chief Mustafa Kumlu was forced to leave the stage and seek shelter in the Atatürk Cultural Center after workers from various affiliate unions, including former Tekel employees, protested his perceived hesitation at supporting workers’ struggles.

Some of the protesters threw stones, breaking the culture center’s windows. Mahmut Kaçan, the chairman of the health workers’ union Sağlık-Sen, broke his arm as he fell during the fray.

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