Dozens detained, injured in 4th day of police crackdown on park protesters
Police use water cannons to disperse the protesters camping in Taksim's Gezi Park. (Photo: AA, Bülent Doruk)
Dozens of people were detained many others were wounded as police crackdown on protests to prevent demolition of İstanbul's Gezi Park continued for the forth day.
Turkish riot police used pepper spray, tear gas and water cannons on Friday to disperse an angry crowd camping in Taksim's Gezi Park in central İstanbul on the fourth day of unrest.
İstanbul Governor Hüseyin Avni Mutlu said a total of 63 people were detained and 12 others were wounded in protests to prevent demolition of İstanbul's Gezi Park. Yet, the figures dramatically rose at night.
Speaking at a joint press conference with İstanbul Mayor Kadir Topbaş on Friday, Mutlu said 11 of the wounded were taken to the Taksim Teaching and Research Hospital and another person was taken to the Şişli Eftal Hospital. One of the wounded was a Turkish citizen of Moroccan descend and he is reportedly under critical condition, Mutlu said.
Mutlu asserted that he fully respects people's freedom of expression and that there is not a ‘tree massacre' at the Gezi Park. Governor Mutlu claimed that there are certain groups trying to cause tension between the police and protestors to show as if police do not care about the nature. “We certainly know these groups and their aims. We also know that they have nothing to do with love for nature,” he added.
Commenting on photographs circulating around social media websites, which shows violent response of police officers to protesters, Mutlu said that all photographs and allegations will be investigated thoroughly.
By Thursday night, hundreds of people had joined protestors who have been camping for the past three days to stand guard against the demolition of the park's walls and the uprooting of trees in an act of solidarity.
The group was dispersed by riot police who arrived at the scene early on Friday with riot control vehicles and pepper spray.
The group resisted the police and clashed in sometimes violent incidents but had to leave the area when officers used tear gas and water cannons to break up the protest. Some reports said several protestors were injured when a wall they were climbing collapsed during a police chase, while several others were detained. Police attacked protestors once again in the afternoon with tear gas and pressurized water in Taksim Square and the Harbiye and Gümüşsuyu quarters.
Earlier on Friday, the İstanbul Chamber of Doctors said in a statement that seven people had been severely injured during the clashes. Six suffered from head traumas due to objects hitting their heads, while the other individual, who is reportedly a teacher, was rushed to hospital with a broken leg.
Well-known celebrities Okan Bayülgen, Hayko Cepkin and Mehmet Ali Alabora, Republican People's Party (CHP) deputy İlhan Cihaner and CHP deputy chairmen Gürsel Tekin, Sezgin Tanrıkulu and Umut Oran also attended the protests. Tekin was affected by the pepper spray. Journalist Ahmet Şık sustained injuries to the head and was taken to Taksim İlkyardım Hospital. Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) deputy Sırrı Süreyya Önder was also taken to hospital after a cannister of tear gas fired by police hit him in the shoulder. Later on, Tekin and Oran held a press conference in front of the İstanbul Courthouse before filing a criminal complaint against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan concerning the issue. The deputies criticized the force used by police to disperse the crowd, calling it "ruthless."
Following the clashes, police started building barriers around the park to prevent the protesters, including journalists, from re-entering the park. In the following hours, protesters frequently clashed with the police in an attempt to stop the barriers from being built. Several marginal groups also attacked police, reports said.
On Thursday morning, police again used tear gas and pepper spray to disperse the crowd who had been camping there for the past three days and construction workers immediately started their work after the group was pushed away. They also brought down trees that had been felled the day before but had been replanted by the demonstrators.
Sırrı Süreyya Önder later arrived at the scene on Thursday morning and stood in front of a bulldozer after bypassing a police barrier and forced the machine to stop in a repeat of an action he took the previous day. Protestors returned to the scene of the demolition after the BDP deputy's negotiations.
The excessive force used by police has drawn outrage and condemnation from various circles. In a written statement released on Friday, 183 academics from İstanbul's Boğaziçi University condemned the demolition of the park and the violence used by police against the city's residents.
Meanwhile, Mustafa Göktaş, the chairman of the Organization for Environment and Consumer Rights (ÇETKODER), has announced that a group of association members was planning to go to İstanbul to support the protests.
“Our volunteers and friends are going to travel to İstanbul from 17 different provinces. We will protect our environment, nature and the city of İstanbul. We are people loyal to God, the Turkish Republic, the Turkish nation and its flag,” Göktaş said on Friday.
Within the scope of the Taksim pedestrianization project, approved by the government in February last year, 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 the further uprooting of trees and demolition of walls.
Commenting on the protesters, Prime Minister Erdoğan has said the government has made its decision on the demolition and that there will be no U-turn in this regard.