Protesters halt demolition of Taksim park, start night-long sit-in

Protesters halt demolition of Taksim park, start night-long sit-in

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News
Protesters halt demolition of Taksim park, start night-long sit-in

In what has become a typical scene in Istanbul, a group of protesters who gathered in Taksim Gezi Park were chased by police armed with tear gas. DAILY NEWS photo, Emrah GÜREL

Local demonstrators and a number of parliamentary deputies partially blocked the demolition of the last green public space in the center of Istanbul on May 28, despite police forces again resorting to tear gas to disperse the group. The struggle eventually transformed into a night-long sit-in protest by the demonstrators. 

Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) Istanbul deputy Sırrı Süreyya Önder helped halt an operation to remove trees in Taksim Gezi Park when he obstructed the path of a bulldozer, amid running altercations between demonstrators on one side and police and company workers on the other. Önder demanded the license for the demolition, which was not provided by municipality workers. 

Police pulled out of the area as dusk set, allowing around 1,000 protesters to stage a mini-festival during which they vowed that the park would not be turned over to “land speculators.” A group of protesters said they planned to stand guard at the site all night long to prevent any night-time demolition.

Protesters first gathered late May 27 in response to social media messages alerting activists to the arrival of workers tasked with cutting down trees on the site, on which the Topçu Kışlası (Artillery Barracks) are set to be rebuilt as part of the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) controversial plan to pedestrianize Taksim Square. 

‘I am the deputy of the trees, too’

“They are planning to demolish at night; we will be here to stop them until this thing is canceled,” Önder posted on his official Twitter account. Gülseren Onanç, a former deputy of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), also joined the protesters, while CHP deputy Gürsel Tekin also came to Gezi Park to support the protests.

At the site, Önder slammed both the police’s behavior and the economic vision of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

“I am not merely an Istanbul deputy. I am a deputy of the trees, too. We might have repelled [the police] today, but they will surely come back tomorrow. The hunger of this neo-liberal system is such that if it cuts all the forests, it won’t be satiated,” he said, adding that the demonstration aimed at raising awareness. “Each of us will guard a tree, and in the morning, we will give a report to the birds.” 

Protesters hung “We are standing guard for Taksim” banners in the park, but police used tear gas to disperse the group and allow the demolition to continue during the day.

The area was formerly the site of the barracks, which is set to be reconstructed and subsequently converted into a shopping mall and possible condominium with social facilities, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced in a speech on April 29.

The rebuilding of the barracks was approved by the High Council for Protection of Cultural and Natural Assets on March 1.