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Will Gezi Park Spur a ‘Turkish Spring’? Watch Live Coverage

Will Gezi Park Spur a ‘Turkish Spring’? Watch Live Coverage

UPDATE 6/1 – 11:00am EST: We have moved live coverage to this link.

Taksim Square’s Gezi Park  in Istanbul, Turkey has erupted into a scene of chaos this afternoon, after protesters who have been demonstrating there throughout the day clashed with Turkish police.  The protests began peacefully earlier in the week, but the situation has clearly escalated and there are reports of protesters and bystanders being sprayed with pepper spray, water cannons and tear gas.

The Washington Post gives us a quick guide to what’s going on there.

While the protests evolved into a full-scale demonstration against Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan (more on that later), they started out much smaller. The peaceful sit-in began on Monday to counter planned construction at the park, which would replace one of downtown Istanbul’s few green spaces with a shopping mall. The scene looks similar to what cities like New York and D.C. experienced during the Occupy protests: large crowds of people milling around, playing instruments and sleeping in tents. […]

Taksim Square is, notably, a loaded place for the Turkish left. In 1977, dozens of protesters were killed in the square when unidentified gunmen opened fire on May Day celebrations. In 2007, police detained nearly 600 after a violent rally in which protesters chanted for Erdogan to resign. And riots broke out again on May Day this year, when hundreds gathered for an anti-government demonstration despite a government ban.

The repeated crackdowns, and a growing perception that Erdogan’s government has displayed what the AP calls “increasingly authoritarian and uncompromising tendencies,” have motivated some to call for more mass action. Istanbul’s Hurriyet Daily News reported on Wednesday that Turkey’s main opposition party leader, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, visited Gezi Party and promised protesters that a member of his party would be there every day, supporting them. Protesters reportedly held a sign that depicted Erdogan as an Ottoman sultan.

Erdogan, who has been in power since 2003, is both Turkey’s most popular politician and, in the words of the Hurriyet Daily News, “one of the strongest Turkish prime ministers ever.” The protests would have to grow considerably to challenge him: Erdogan has signaled that he plans to run for the presidency when his term expires, and while he isn’t the frontrunner, he’s consistently scored well in approval polls, even winning the people’s choice award for Time’s 2011 Person of the Year.

But on social media, at least, the movement against him seems to be gaining momentum. Reuters’ Jonathon Burch reports that thousands of protesters are gathered on Istiklal Street calling for Erdogan to resign. Per this graphic circulating on Twitter, there are Gezi Park solidarity rallies planned in several cities around Turkey, as well as in Helsinki and New York.

Many, some on the scene, are providing updates on social media:

The situation has left some asking if the Turkish Spring has started.

You can follow the #GeziPark and #Taksim hashtags for continuing updates on Twitter.

[live feeds removed]


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Talking to some of my friends from Turkey online, Erdogan is not popular at all. The people I’ve spoken to believe that Erdogan is upsetting the stability of the nation by violating the creed of Ataturk: “Peace inside, Peace in the world”, meaning that Turkey ought to work to stabilize the region, not destabilize it. They also feel that Erdogan is violating the secular institutions of the country as well by engaging in heated rhetoric with Israel, and stirring up extremists with his actions.

Erdogan is very unpopular among the educated and business people, the middle class for the most part favors the traditions of Ataturk in the relationship between the state, European nations, and islam. Unfortunately, there are enough fundamentalist muslim voters among the poor and lower middle classes to give his party a working majority, and they have made the most of it.

It was not so many years ago – right up until Erdogan, in fact – that Turkey was counted among the US’ most faithful, steadfast, and strong allies. It might be so again, but the islamists he leads have assiduously consolidated and expanded their grip on power in every aspect of government and society. They aren’t the sort to walk away from power, either.

If Turkey is to free itself, there will be much blood spilled.