As it happened: Police keep Taksim Square shut by means of tear gas and water cannon on tense May Day in Istanbul

As it happened: Police keep Taksim Square shut by means of tear gas and water cannon on tense May Day in Istanbul

As it happened: Police keep Taksim Square shut by means of tear gas and water cannon on tense May Day in Istanbul

Turkish police fired tear gas, water cannon and rubber pellets to stop May Day demonstrators trying to access the city's iconic Taksim Square. REUTERS Photo

Istanbul experienced another eventful May Day as police prevented any attempt by demonstrators to reach Taksim Square by resorting to tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets.

Chaotic scenes of protesters braving police crackdowns that have become customary in Istanbul were once again on display as unions insisted on their right to gather at the iconic square for Labor Day, defying a ban by authorities.

Up to 142 demonstrators were detained and scores were injured as police confronted unions and organizations, including the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions (DİSK) or members of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and other parties, in the Beşiktaş and the Şişli district of Istanbul. Nearly 40,000 police officers where deployed to cut all roads connecting to Taksim Square and to keep the whole area at the center of Istanbul under a virtual blockade. Tension was also present in Ankara, where the governor’s office mimicked Istanbul by banning May Day rallies in the city’s symbolic Kızılay Square. 

Elsewhere across the country, May Day rallies more resembled their purpose, a cheerful celebration of Workers’ Day.

Here is a minute-by-minute development of events in Istanbul and other cities:

19.00: The Istanbul Medical Association said scores of people had been injured by plastic bullets, water cannon and tear gas fired by the police in Istanbul. “At least four people suffered a head concussion, one person had a sight-threatening eye injury, one person broke his arm, between 15 and 20 people were injured after being hit by tear-gas canisters and hundreds were admitted to hospital due to high exposure to tear gas,” Ümit Şen, a doctor member of the chambers’ executive committee, said in a statement.

18.00: The Istanbul Governor’s Office has stated that 142 demonstrators have been detained and 90 people, 19 of whom are police officers, were injured and treated in hospital during May Day clashes in the city. Twenty-three people are still being treated, the statement added. The numbers provided by the governor’s office did not take into account those who have been treated outside of hospitals.

17.10: A woman in Ankara has braved police by standing in front of a water cannon truck (TOMA), refusing to let it proceed on its way. The woman, wearing a distinctive bag, did not move despite officers warning that they would resort to firing water if she did not let them pass. She finally sat on the track, holding her ID in her hands, as police fired pressurized water.


16.25: Two brothers of Gezi victim Ethem Sarısülük, who died after being shot by a police officer during the Gezi protests in Ankara last June, have been detained by police during the May Day rallies in Ankara, the Progressive Lawyers’ Association has announced.

16.15: Gatherings in Istanbul’s Asian neighborhood of Kadıköy have concluded without any police intervention, after the Governor’s Office had allocated the main rally area as a permitted location. However, the authorities have warned that this could be the last May Day to be held in Kadıköy, as another huge rally area is currently under construction in Maltepe, through the pouring of more concrete into the Marmara Sea.

15.45: Authorities have now lifted restrictions on Istanbul's road and ferry traffic, following hours of police interventions on the May Day rallies.

15.40: May Day rallies were much more peaceful in the southeast. In Diyarbakır, demonstrators opened banners reading “Biji yek gulan” ("Happy Labor Day" in Kurdish) to celebrate.


15.30: A group of demonstrators have attempted to beat three police officers, who found themselves surrounded by them during the crackdown in Istanbul’s Şişli district. They were eventually saved by the intervention of other demonstrators.

15.10: Plainclothed police officers have tried to detain CHP deputy Şafak Pavey, who has a prosthetic arm and a prosthetic leg, after she attempted to prevent them from taking into custody a young demonstrator in Istanbul’s Beşiktaş district. Police eventually desisted after Pavey’s mother, Ayşe Önal, intervened by hugging her daughter.


14.53: CHP deputy Mahmut Tanal has claimed that police officers fired real bullets in Istanbul. “Those are real bullets, are you aware of that? Using real bullets against the people is a huge crime. What’s necessary should immediately be done,” Tanal said via his Twitter account, linking to a picture of two bullets that were found in the Beşiktaş district.

14. 22: EPA photographer @sedatsuna tweets that he's fine, although his leg required stitches after being shot by Istanbul police.

14.12: Four hand-made bombs and several Molotov cocktails have been found during police checks in the Tarlabaşı neighborhood, daily Hürriyet correspondents report.

14.06: The number of detentions in Istanbul has risen to 138, while 51 people have been injured, according to the latest figures provided by the Progressive Lawyers Association. In Ankara, police detained over 20 demonstrators who wanted to march to Kızılay Square to hold May Day rallies.

14.00: Doğan News Agency footage shows a police officer firing rubber bullets at a demonstrator near the Okmeydanı Hospital from a distance of only five meters. According to regulations, rubber bullets must be fired from at least 25 meters

13.50: Police allow May Day demonstrators to march in the Western Anatolian city Eskişehir.
13.44: A huge poster of Berkin Elvan, the 15-year-old teenager who died after spending 269 days in a coma due to a tear gas injury, is hung on a building in Beşiktaş.


13.29: Police now fully control main roads in the Beşiktaş districts. Only sporadic clashes occur in the sidestreets, Hürriyet Daily News correspondent Stefan Martens reports.

Police have also used water cannons to disperse the Anti-Capitalist Muslims. The group was marching towards Taksim from the old city, where its members performed prayers for demonstrators who died during previous May Days. Hürriyet correspondent Çetin Aydın's photo shows the moment a young woman trying to reduce the effect of tear gas with a lemon:


12.54: Around 60 people have been detained and 21 people have been injured in Istanbul so far, according to the Progressive Lawyers Association.

12.50: The first clashes are reported in Ankara, as several demonstrators have been detained in the Sıhhıye neighborhood, according to BBC Turkish.

12.40: Four people have been detained after a police raid on the main opposition CHP’s party building in Beşiktaş.

12.29: At least five people have been hospitalized in Şişli, including EPA photographer Sedat Suna who suffered a broken leg, the Daily News' Özgür Korkmaz reports. (Photo credit: Özgür Korkmaz)


Police use water cannons, tear gas in Istanbul's tense May Day

12.20: Several people have been detained in Beşiktaş, while tension is still high in Şişli. Hürriyet Daily News' Özgür Korkmaz reports that a high ranking police official has warned the riot police not to intervene with the protestors if they do not come close, saying "fire just one or two canisters, there's no need to use more." The police are visibly using less tear gas in Şişli compared to the Gezi protests and last year's May Day, according to Korkmaz.

12.11: Daily Sol reporter Elif Örnek has been injured during the police crackdown, while another reporter, Ali Haydar Doğan from the ETHA agency, broke his arm.

12.00: The Istanbul Doctors’ Chamber adopted a health-based approach by opening a banner reading “Tear gas kills…” outside its office. However, the group’s march was prevented by the police, who apparently ignored the message and resorted to tear gas regardless.


11. 52: The Anti-Capitalist Muslims, a group that drew attention by performing Friday prayers during the Gezi protests last summer, have organized another prayer at the Fatih Mosque for demonstrators who died during previous May Days. After the prayers, the group started to march toward Taksim Square, seeking to break the police barricades.

11.24: Turkey's General Directorate of Security has ordered the police to use the specially-designed portable steel walls for the first time in this year's May Day. The camera-equipped walls can automatically spray tear gas when protesters push them. Three have been sent to Istanbul and one is being used in Ankara (click here to read), Hürriyet correspondent Fevzi Kızılkoyun reports. (Photo: Selahattin Sönmez)


11.18: Deputies from the main opposition CHP and the Peoples’ Democracy Party (HDP) were also marching alongside DİSK members. The intervention started as the deputies were trying to convince the police to allow them to march to Taksim Square.

Police launch a very harsh intervention against the DİSK and KESK members, resorting to water cannons and tear gas, Hürriyet Daily News correspondent Özgür Korkmaz reports.

11.01: The group gathered in front of the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions' (DİSK) headquarters in Şişli is blocked by police as soon as its starts to march toward Taksim Square, Hürriyet Daily News correspondent Özgür Korkmaz reports. Police tell the general secretary of DİSK and KESK (the Confederation of Public Sector Trade Unions) to go to the government-assigned rallying area in Yenikapı, adding that they will not allow any access to Taksim.

10.55: One person has been injured in Beşiktaş, daily Radikal reports. Meanwhile, police are resorting to using intense tear gas and water cannon in the streets of the Şişli district.

10.50: Aside from the police interventions, May Day has also been marred by a road accident in a Central Anatolian highway. A bus carrying union workers for the May Day demonstration in the city of Kayseri has crashed after sliding on the slippery road in the province of Kırşehir. Thirty-three people are reported injured, one of whom is in a serious condition.

10.45: Dilan Alp, a teenager who was severely injured after being hit by a tear gas canister on her head during last year’s eventful May Day demonstrations, is back in the fray. This time, she marches alongside her father with Human Rights Association (İHD) members.

10.38: Meanwhile, Gezi Park is guarded by around 30 special operations units, daily Radikal reports. Armored vehicles are also deployed next to the park, which gained symbolic status during last year’s nationwide anti-government protests.

Police are not allowing journalists to take photos or shoot video footage

10.31: Hürriyet Daily News correspondent Stefan Martens reports from the scene that the police intervention in Beşiktaş is continuing.

10.28: Some residents in the Beşiktaş district who have been severely affected by the intense tear gas used by police have been evacuated from their homes. Families were seen running with babies in their arms.


10.17: Police officers pose for a selfie in the Şişli district (via Hürriyet's Cansu Çamlıbel):


10.09: The victims of the Gezi Park protests are being commemorated in the Beşiktaş district.


10.07: Some groups shoot fireworks and Molotov cocktails toward police in the sidestreets of the Okmeydanı neighborhood. Police use tear gas and rubber bullets.

09.58: A small group in a narrow street between Şişli and Taksim is shooting stones and capscrews at the police. Police are using tear gas and pressurized water to disperse them, Hürriyet Daily News correspondent Özgür Korkmaz reports from the scene:


08.57: CHP deputy Mahmut Tanal congratulates policemen on the occasion of May Day, before starting a sit-in protest with a group of people in front of the police barricade. The group chant slogans about Berkin Elvan, the 15-year-old Gezi victim.

08.50: Water cannons start to intervene in the Beşiktaş neighborhood.

08:42: In the Odakule neighborhood, police don't let journalists carrying press cards walk to Taksim Square, saying they should have a special permit from Governor's Office.

08.40: Police have cordoned off all the avenues, streets and alleys leading to Taksim Square with metallic barriers. The square, located on the top of a hill, is currently a no man’s land with only a few people who work or live in the area allowed to pass. Water cannon trucks and armored vehicles have also been deployed next to the police barricades. The neighborhoods of Cihangir, Çukurcuma and Galata connecting the square to the shores of the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn are under blockade with no possibility of access. On the other side of the square, access to the neighborhoods of Tarlabaşı, Pangaltı and Feriköy has also been cut by the police.

08.30: The tension between protesters and the government over Taksim is perhaps understandable, as the square tops the list of five politically charged sites in Istanbul, with a number of dark episodes throughout its history. (Click to read)

08.15: Some labor unions and political parties have opted to march to Taksim from the Beşiktaş neighborhood on the coast, while some others have chosen Şişli, the closest center north of Taksim, as their rallying point.

08.00: “The May Day Erdoğan engraved in our minds,” Hürriyet columnist Sedat Ergin explains how the Turkish PM’s discourse regarding Taksim Square has changed over four years. (Click to read)

07.40: The police try to tow away a bus belonging to the CHP. A group tries to stop them with a sit-in protest in front of the bus. Two protesters have been detained. (Photo: Fırat Alkaç/Hürriyet)


Around 40,000 police officers are deployed in Istanbul today, with dozens of water cannon trucks and armored vehicles in the roads connecting to Taksim Square. (Click to read)

A group rallying in front of the main opposition Republican People's Party's (CHP) local headquarters in the Beşiktaş neighborhood confronted policemen who urged them to disperse.

Istanbul Governor Hüseyin Avni Mutlu announced several restrictions on public transportation across the city, especially in areas leading to rallying points for unions and other associations trying to reach Taksim Square. The ferry docks in Eminönü, Karaköy, Sirkeci and Beşiktaş will be closed on May Day, Mutlu has said, stressing that transportation will be provided to reach the state-permitted rally area in Yenikapı. (Click to read)

Many shops in Taksim's historic İstiklal Avenue remain closed.

The first groups have started to gather in Şişli, north of Taksim.