Police in Turkey were cracking down Saturday on protesters who returned to Taksim Square, a site that has been the subject of protests for over a month. Reports indicate that police are using water cannons and tear gas against the protesters.
From the Associated Press:
Police on Saturday fired volleys of tear gas at protesters who had gathered at the city’s landmark Taksim Square with the intention of entering a park which has been cordoned off, hours after the city’s governor warned that the demonstration was illegal and participants would be dispersed.
A few thousand people converged on the square, with the aim of entering the nearby Gezi Park, whose redevelopment plans sparked anger and morphed into nationwide anti-government protests in June. Organizers had planned to serve notice to authorities of a court decision that has annulled redevelopment plans for Taksim and break through police cordons.
The park has been cordoned off since June 15, when police routed environmentalists who occupied it amid the widespread demonstrations against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government. His opponents say he has become increasingly authoritarian since coming to power a decade ago.
In a June decision that was only published publicly earlier this week, a Turkish court ruled that plans to redevelop Gezi Park and surrounding areas in Taksim Square must be canceled. A coalition of activists returned to the square as Istanbul prepares to reopen the park to the public on Sunday. The park has been closed since mid-June when protesters were first cleared from the park.
Taksim Solidarity, an umbrella platform of activists and civil society groups, put out a call after ruling for people to gather in Gezi Park, which has not been open to the public since June 16.
“We are going to our park to deliver the court decision by hand, which cancels the project aimed to disidentify, depopulate and concretize Gezi Park, to the ones who shut the park down to the people,” said Taksim Solidarity in a written statement. “We are going to our park to open its doors to its real owners, so to everyone again.”
But Istanbul’s governor has stated that Saturday’s demonstration is not legal and will not be permitted, according to CNN.
“It is not legal to gather in Taksim. I cannot let you gather where the law says you cannot,” Istanbul Gov. Huseyin Avni Mutlu told reporters on Saturday. “We are not going to allow this illegal gathering. The police will make the necessary warnings,” he said.
Interior Minister Muammer Guler made similar statements, according to CNN.
“We will not and cannot permit demonstration or marches in those places,” the minister said. “Without it being a demonstration or a protest march, they can use Gezi Park as they please. We will not allow tents.
“Right now in Istanbul there is a search and a push for ways to have illegal gatherings. Our police is not permitting this,” Guler said.
The latest crackdown on protesters comes on the heels of Erdogan’s criticism of Morsi’s ouster in Egypt, in which Erdogan slammed “enemies of democracy.”
From the Global Post:
“No matter where they are… coups are bad,” Erdogan said in televised remarks. “Coups are clearly enemies of democracy.
“Those who rely on the guns in their hands, those who rely on the power of the media cannot build democracy…. Democracy can only be built at ballot box,” said Erdogan, who had forged friendly relations with Morsi during the Egyptian’s one-year in power.
Erdogan also lashed out at the West for shying away from calling the military intervention a coup, while welcoming the African Union’s decision to suspend Egypt over the army’s actions.
“The West has failed the sincerity test,” said Erdogan. “No offence, but democracy does not accept double standards.”
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