Police stage crackdown on May Day protesters in Istanbul

Police stage crackdown on May Day protesters in Istanbul

ISTANBUL- Hürriyet Daily News
Police stage crackdown on May Day protesters in Istanbul

Turkish riot police fire tear gas at May Day protesters in a bid to disperse crowds that tried to break through barricades to reach Taksim Square in central Istanbul on May Day. REUTERS Photo

Police began battling with crowds early in the morning today with water and tear gas in a bid to keep groups that included trade unionists, as well as members of political parties and other groups, away from Taksim Square due to a ban there on May Day demonstrations.

Thousands of Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions (DİSK) workers and their supporters gathered early today in Şişli to march to the iconic square. However, police started a crackdown against the group, which also included members of socialist groups, anarchists and supporters of the outlawed Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party/Front (DHKP/C) after a final warning was issued in Istanbul’s central Şişli district.

At least three demonstrators and a reporter were injured during the crackdown and hospitalized. Demonstrators refused to back down, regathering just after police intervened and turning the back alleys of Şişli into small war zones.

Only a small group of Hak-İş (Confederation of Turkish Real Trade Unions) members were allowed to gather and leave flowers by the Republic Monument in Taksim Square. The police crackdown on demonstrators in Şişli continued, with police intermittently using tear gas to disperse small groups attempting to reassemble. Citizens affected by the tear gas fled to apartments but the thick clouds of gas affected even those staying at home with windows closed.

A group of 30 feminists, waving violet flags and shouting "all together against fascism," was pushed back by police firing tear gas.

Şişli was left under a cloud of tear gas following the police crackdown on the group. Even police officers and reporters using gas masks were affected by the immense quantities of gas used. The demonstrators continued their attempts to gather again in alleys.

Clashes started in alleys surrounding Şişli, leading police to respond using tear while demonstrators threw stones and fireworks at the police.

All access to Taksim Square was blocked due to a decision by the governor, who claimed May Day celebrations could not be held there due to controversial pedestrianization work.

DİSK chairman Kani Beko negotiated with police officials in an attempt to convince them to allow the march to proceed, but police insisted the gathering was illegal and the group should disperse.

"These people did not deserve tear gas, they are the workers of this country," said Beko in front of the federation’s headquarters in Şişli. “No other country threw tear gas at workers; they celebrated May Day in peace. Many of our friends have been hospitalized. I condemn this attack, this state terror against the workers. Please do not repeat what you have done so far against the people; Istanbul’s streets should be opened to our worker friends who will be returning to their homes."

Despite DİSK’s call, clashes between small groups and the police continued in the alleys. Part of Şişli was left under a cloud of tear gas as police continued to battle with protestors, who built makeshift barricades using garbage containers and any other materials they could find on the streets. The protesters allegedly destroyed many shop windows and cars during the clashes, while the tear gas capsules also caused damage. Some police officers were seen throwing stones back at the protestors.

Demonstrators in a back alley used pizza delivery motorcycles as a barricade. The move drew reactions from the locals, who said vandalism was not the way to fight police brutality. “We are not against you, but you should not destroy property. We will fight with our votes,” one woman told the protesters, while another woman shouted, “Get out of our streets, you are not welcome here.”

The window of a shop was also broken during the clashes. The owner of the shop said it was a tear gas capsule that smashed his window.

Around 16 people were hospitalized in Şişli Etfal Hospital as a result of the tear gas.

Şişli Mayor Mustafa Sarıgül criticized the tough measures that included a lockdown on most transportation in the city, saying it had produced “civilian martial law.”

“All transportation is stopped now. Civilian martial law is being used now. I do not find this logic of civilian martial law right,” said Sarıgül.

“An atmosphere for the people to speak freely and for workers to express their demands freely in Taksim Square could be provided,” Sarıgül said, according to Anatolia news agency.

16 hospitalized

There was a simultaneous crackdown on protesting groups in other areas of the city, including on members of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) in Beşiktaş, whose attempts to march were blocked by police. Clouds of tears gas were seen on Barbaros Avenue of Beşiktaş, as police used tear gas to prevent demonstrators from marching toward Taksim. Members of the CHP, the Freedom and Solidarity Party (ÖDP), the Confederation of Public Sector Trade Unions (KESK), the People’s Houses (HE) were all stopped in Beşiktaş by police with water cannon and tear gas.

Battles, however, continued throughout the day on sidestreets leading to Barbaros. Demonstrators were briefly permitted to congregate in the center of Beşiktaş to mark the day, but were attacked again by police just prior to dispersing. Police continued to chase after demonstrators up Barbaros with water cannon and tear gas, leading protesters to erect makeshift barricades with all available materials.

Zeki Günal, a journalist from Doğan news agency, suffered wounds from stones thrown in Beşiktaş, where he was reporting. A stone hit his head, but his gas mask saved him, while his hand was broken.

Daily Yeni Şafak reporter Cihat Arpacık was also wounded in the head and hospitalized.

Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ said the government had taken steps for the benefit of workers, recalling that Taksim Square had also been closed to May Day ceremonies during the CHP’s term in power. He said the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) had declared May Day a holiday and was the first to open Taksim Square to demonstrations.

Meanwhile, a peaceful demonstration was held in Kadıköy on Istanbul's Asian side by the Turkish Communist Party (TKP).

Turkish tear gas sector needs support

ISTANBUL- Hürriyet Daily News


Photo by Özgür Korkmaz

Thousands of tear gas capsules were fired to stop demonstrators trying to march to Taksim Square on May Day. Various types of the gas were used - even the pressurized water included gas - but none of it was produced locally.

Capsules collected in Istanbul’s Şişli district, which witnessed fierce clashes between police and demonstrators, were all imported. One fired with a gun was U.S.-made, while a similar one was from Brazil. A hand grenade-like capsule was produced in South Korea.

This means that every year millions of dollars of Turkish taxpayers’ money is spent on importing tear gas.