Police used pepper spray to disperse a group of protesters who gathered in İstanbul's Taksim Gezi Park -- a leafy oasis that has lent character to Turkey's most high-profile public square for more than seven decades -- to stand guard against the demolition of the park's walls and the uprooting of trees.
Within the scope of the Taksim pedestrianization project, approved by the government in February 2012, the Gezi Park walls facing the Elmadağ area were demolished by construction workers on Monday night. Shortly after this, a group of protesters including members of the Taksim Platform, a group formed to oppose the project, came to the park to prevent further uprooting of the trees and demolition of walls.
Construction workers immediately put an end to their work and said that they would return in the morning to continue it. Protesters then decided to camp in the park until the next day to prevent further destruction of the park.
Later on Tuesday afternoon, police units arrived on the scene and demanded that protesters pack up their tents and leave the park. Protesters insisted on staying in the park but were forced to leave when police used pepper spray against them.
The work to uproot the trees then resumed in the afternoon, during which a group of masked protesters threw stones at construction equipment. The group shouted at the operator and told him to stop the engine and get out. When the operator refused to stop working, the group started to throw stones at the piece of machinery, breaking its windows. The police then forced the group away from the machine.
Ayaspaşa Environmental and Urban Beautification Association board member Cem Tüzün told reporters that the construction work is illegal. “We have submitted a petition to the Regional Board of Protection of Cultural and Natural Assets. We told them that the construction work currently being conducted is out of line with the construction plans prepared at the beginning and with an ongoing highway project,” he said. He added that they hope the construction work stops at once and that the trees that have been uprooted are replanted.
BDP deputy stands against bulldozer to protest uprooting trees in Taksim Park
A senior Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) official stood in front of a bulldozer after bypassing a police barrier and forced the machine to stop, in protest of the demolition of Taksim Gezi Park.
Arriving at the scene of demolition along with other protesters in the afternoon, BDP deputy Sırrı Süreyya Önder told reporters that the project does not reflect the environmentalist spirit of Mehmed the Conqueror, believed to have said he would give orders to kill those who uproot trees, in open criticism of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government.
“Those who present themselves as conservatives only care about profit maximization through such projects regardless of concerns over the environment,” Önder said.
The BDP deputy then asked the officials in charge of the demolition of the park to show the legal document permitting the work at the site and stood in front of the construction machine.
The officials halted the demolition as they did not have in their possession any document giving them the go-ahead for the work at Gezi Park.