Wrap-up: Taksim ban overshadows Turkish May Day rallies

Wrap-up: Taksim ban overshadows Turkish May Day rallies

Wrap-up: Taksim ban overshadows Turkish May Day rallies

AFP Photo

Turkey marked May Day in places across the country with celebrations, apart from its largest city Istanbul, where riot police did not hesitate to use tear gas and water cannons to halt groups that attempted to rally in the streets to reach the symbolic Taksim Square. 

Istanbul police took extraordinary measures to prevent groups who attempted to march Taksim, detaining well over 100 people. A young demonstrator who was among the May Day group dispersed by police in the Beşiktaş district was stabbed, allegedly by an employee of a local parking lot.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said some insisted on rallying in Taksim and “violated the peace and public order” by carrying “illegal flags and Molotov cocktails” in the streets, speaking in Ankara on May 1. Recalling that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government had announced the day as a national holiday, Erdoğan said he “wished for May 1 to be celebrated in a festive mood without provocations.” 

In Istanbul’s Beşiktaş, main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) Istanbul deputy Aykut Erdoğdu was wounded in his hand. Erdoğdu had demanded that the driver of a police bus filled with detained demonstrators open the door. Unable to stop the bus, he punched its window and busted open his hand. 

Police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse a group who tried to march from Beşiktaş toward Taksim.

Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) lawmakers Pervin Buldan and Sabahat Tuncel were among those hit by tear gas in Beşiktaş.

Turkish police had blocked all vehicle access and cut public transport to prevent protests on Taksim Square, which is the traditional focus for protests in Turkey’s largest city. Taksim’s İstiklal Avenue, which is always crowded with locals and tourists, was deserted, with shops shuttered and metal barricades blocking off side streets. 

Police helicopters circled overhead. 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. 

Opposition parties and unions called on the government to lift the ban on Taksim Square.

“People want to express their problems but the government doesn’t want those problems to be heard ahead of elections,” CHP deputy Mahmut Tanal, holding a pocket-sized book of the Turkish constitution, told Reuters in Beşiktaş on May 1.

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.

Meanwhile, a stray dog named “Garip” was photographed being kicked away by a policeman who was detaining a protester near Taksim Square on May 1. Soon after the incident, the dog started to chase a police car at the square, barking. The photos quickly went viral on social media.

Istanbul police stationed around 25,000 police officers, 64 water cannons (TOMA) and five helicopters on and around the square for May Day. TOMAs were  stationed on the touristic İstiklal Avenue and other crowded streets leading to Taksim such as Tarlabaşı Street, Gümüşsuyu Street and Sıraselviler Street, as well as in front of the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions (DİSK) building in Istanbul’s Şişli district. 

Despite the tense situation in Istanbul, May Day was marked in a celebratory atmosphere in other cities. The Black Sea province of Zonguldak witnessed a Türk-İş union-led demonstration, while the Central Anatolian province of Konya hosted celebrations led by the conservative Hak-İş union.

In the western city of İzmir, police briefly used force as some HDP members argued with officials over May Day events. The May Day demonstration in Ankara ended without any major confrontation with police.

A usually bustling square lined with cafes and hotels, Taksim was filled with police buses, ambulances and satellite broadcast trucks. A pair of tourists emerged from a hotel to find the area sealed off and nervously made their way around police lines.