As it happened: Turkey marks tense May Day as police enforce lockdown in central Istanbul
Özgür Korkmaz – ISTANBUL
Protesters run with the portraits of Turkish 1968 activists during a May Day rally at Sıhhiye Square in Ankara on May 1, 2015. AFP PHOTO / ADEM ALTANAs May Day demonstrations ended throughout Turkey, police have managed to keep the masses away from Istanbul's Taksim Square by taking extraordinary measures, detaining at least 203 people.
Opposition parties and some unions had announced that they were determined to march to the square from the nearby Beşiktaş neighborhood where they have been gathering from 10:00 a.m.
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu underlined that only “symbolic” rallies would be allowed, hinting that police would disperse any attempt of massive marches.
Only a small group of unionists were allowed into the square for a moderate remembrance ceremony for the victims of the May Day 1977, when 34 people were killed.
Although brief clashes occured in Istanbul throughout the day, far less violent incidents were reported in the country this year, compared to last year.
Here is a minute-by-minute development of events in Istanbul and other cities:
20:30 - As all clashes end, police dismantle roadblocks in Taksim, where life returns to normal.
18:30 - Although mass demonstrations are over, minor clashes continue in the alleys of several Istanbul neighborhoods, including Kurtuluş and Okmeydanı. Police keep using tear gas and water cannons.
18:00 - Istanbul Governorate announces that 203 people have been detained and 24 people, including 6 police officers, were injured today.
17:45 - May Day demonstrations throughout Turkey end, most of them peacefully. Officials are expected to release a statement about the final number of detentions in Istanbul, where police managed to keep the masses away from Taksim Square.
16:05 - While Istanbul's Beşiktaş neighborhood is currently calm, two more people have been detained in Taksim. In the western city of İzmir police briefly used force as HDP members argued with officials over May Day events.
15.45 - The May Day demonstration in Ankara has ended without any major confrontation with police.
15:35 - Three members of parliament have been physically hurt so far. The HDP's Pervin Buldan and Sabahat Tuncel were affected by tear gas in Beşiktaş, while the CHP's Aykut Erdoğdu injured his hand when he punched a police bus after officers refused to talk to him.
15:13 - A demonstrator, who was among the May Day group that was dispersed by police in Beşiktaş a short while ago, has been stabbed, allegedly by an employee of a local parking lot.
15:10 - Some 400 demonstrators, including members of the main opposition CHP, march for May Day in the western province of Bolu.
14:50 - President Erdoğan slams the "international media," arguing that they failed to cover massive protests in Germany and the United States as deeply as they covered the Gezi Park protests in 2013. Referring to the recent protests in Baltimore, Erdoğan referenced Freddie Gray, whose death in police custory triggered riots. Without mentioning his name directly, Erdoğan referred to Gray as "that black person."
14:43 - "We do not shut down May Day to anyone. On the contrary, we are trying to keep it open for the whole of Istanbul," President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan says during an address to workers in Ankara, claiming that workers' quality of life had been improved over the past decade by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
14:40 - In the Fatih neighborhood of Istanbul, the Anti-Capitalist Muslims group prayed for all workers who have recently died in Turkey due to workplace accidents.
14:35 - In the Fulya neighborhood of Istanbul, a group of men wearing civilian clothes attack another group with clubs. The attacked group was prevented from marching to Taksim by police.
14:30 - 136 people have been detained so far, according to Istanbul Police Chief Selami Altınok.
14:04 - Police start to use tear gas and water cannon to disperse the main group, which consists of around 1,500 people, in Beşiktaş, after hours-long negotiations about the planned march to Taksim. The demonstrators had initially demanded to march to Taksim all together, while police insisted that only a maximum of 500 people can go there. According to CNN Türk, the decision to disperse the crowd surprised observers, as demonstrators had already agreed to disperse after a press statement in Beşiktaş without attempting to march to Taksim. Several people have been detained.
13:21 - Hundreds of policemen, who were brought to Istanbul from neighboring provinces as May Day reinforcement, wear red vests today to easily distinguish them from local policemen.
13:10 - As police continue to use force to disperse groups in various Istanbul neighborhoods, demonstrations elsewhere in Turkey, including in Ankara, İzmir and Diyarbakır, continue peacefully.
13:03 - Far-left groups hurl Molotov cocktails on police in Istanbul's Okmeydanı neighborhood. (Hürriyet photo: Selçuk Şamiloğlu)
12:45 - Police use tear gas and water cannon in Istanbul's Zincirlikuyu and Okmeydanı neighborhoods.
12:39 - Demonstrators in Beşiktaş decline police offer to allow 300-500 people to march to Taksim.
12:32 - A policeman who was detaining a protester in Taksim kicked away an approaching stray dog. (Click here to read more about this story)
12: 25 - A tear gas canister falls in a side street in the Kurtuluş neighborhood near Taksim.
12:10 - Police near Beşiktaş Square allow people in but confiscate helmets and gas masks if they are carrying them.
11:50 - Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) Co-Chair Figen Yüksekdağ, accompanied by HDP lawmakers including Pervin Buldan and Sabahat Tuncel, arrive in Beşiktaş ahead of a planned march at noon.
11:29 - As a larger crowd continues to wait at Beşiktaş Square, chanting slogans, Murat Karayalçın, the provincial chair of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), says they want to march to Taksim to celebrate May Day but have no intention of clashing with the police.
11:16 - Police use force to disperse May Day demonstrators at Taksim Square, too, after some 30 members of Turkey's Communist Party launched a blitz to enter the square by leaving a nearby hotel, running.
11:08 - Police use tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse a group who started to march from Beşiktaş toward Taksim.
11:05 - Several tourists attempting to reach their hotels in Taksim have been blocked at police barricades on main roads, forcing them to look for alternate routes with their luggage.
10:50 - A group from Beşiktaş football club's leading supporters' group çArşı enter Beşiktaş Square to the joy of the crowd. The group, which played a prominent role in the Gezi protests of June 2013, chanted slogans about both May Day and the current hotly contested football league title.
10:45 - Despite the tense situation in Istanbul, May Day is currently being marked in a celebratory atmosphere in other cities. The Black Sea province of Zonguldak is witnessing a Türk-İş union-led demonstration, while the Central Anatolian province of Konya is hosting celebrations led by the Hak-İş union.
10:32 - Police detain two women at Taksim Square when they attempted to unfurl a banner.
10:30 - Hundreds of people, who have somehow arrived in Istanbul’s Beşiktaş Square, and a large group of reporters, are continuing to wait under tight police control.
09:35 - Most public transport options are currently halted around Taksim to prevent more people from reaching the square. Public bus drivers stopped on E-5 highway, which is normally closed to pedestrians, and told the passengers to walk if they want to go toward Taksim.
09:05 - Police detain five people in the Okmeydanı neighborhood after gas masks and marbles were found on them during a search.
08:15 - Istanbul police have stationed around 25,000 police officers, 64 water cannons (TOMA) and five helicopters on and around the square for May Day. A TOMA and police officers are waiting on the touristic İstiklal Avenue and other crowded streets leading to Taksim such as Tarlabaşı Street, Gümüşsuyu Street and Sıraselviler Street. TOMAs are also stationed in front of the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions (DİSK) building in Istanbul’s Şişli district, Beşiktaş Square and Dolmabahçe.
08:00 - Beşiktaş Square, where unions led by DİSK, the Confederation of Public Sector Trade Unions (KESK) and the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) issued a call to gather for May Day celebrations, is under total police lockdown.
00:00 - Police started to close roads around Taksim as early as midnight. In addition to the main streets leading to the square, passages opening to Barbaros Boulevard are blocked by police squads and no vehicles or pedestrians are allowed to continue.
While taking pride in declaring May 1 as an official holiday in Turkey during the government’s rule, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu indicated on April 30 that any attempt to stage mass celebrations in Taksim Square would be interpreted by the government as an attempt to “create chaos.”
“Tomorrow Taksim will be accessible to any of our citizens who want to come ‘symbolically.’ They should come and lay their carnations and show their respect. At the earliest opportunity, I will also go there and commemorate our citizens. God willing, with carnations,” Davutoğlu said at a gathering with highway workers.
The May Day Organizing Committee, consisting of the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions (DİSK), the Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects (TMMOB) and the Turkish Medical Association (TTB), has called union members and members of the public to meet in Taksim.
DİSK Secretary General Arzu Çerkezoğlu said on April 30 that there was no legal ground to block Taksim to May Day celebrations.
“May 1 is not an action day, it’s a celebration day. The government’s decision to block Taksim is unlawful. Our celebration area is Taksim Square and we are prepared to celebrate May Day in Taksim,” said Çerkezoğlu, adding that they were going to continue the dialogue with the Istanbul Governor’s Office until the last minute to remove the block.
Other unions, on the other hand, will not hold rallies in Istanbul. The pro-government Confederation of Turkish Labor Unions (Türk-İş), which celebrated May Day in Kadıköy district of Istanbul last year, is planning to hold a rally in the Black Sea province of Zonguldak, while the right-wing Labor Confederation (Hak-İş) and the Confederation of Public Servants’ Trade Unions (Memur-Sen) will hold celebrations in the Central Anatolian province of Konya. The Turkish Public Workers’ Labor Union (Kamu-Sen) also announced that the focus of its celebrations would be in the southern province of Adana.
The issue should be the problems of working conditions rather than the location of May 1 rallies, Türk-İş head Ergün Atalay told Anadolu Agency on April 30.
Hak-İş head Mahmut Arslan also said it was wrong to identify May Day with Taksim Square.
The government had allowed mass demonstrations on May Day in 2010, 2011 and 2012 and no violent incidents had been reported then. In 2013, however, the government banned demonstrations at the square on the grounds of safety and public order in a more polarized political atmosphere. The widespread clashes in 2013 were repeated in 2014, too.