Police retreat from Gezi Park, thousands flock to Taksim

Thousands flocked to Taksim after police retreated from the area on Saturday. (Photo: Today's Zaman)

June 01, 2013, Saturday/ 10:06:00

Riot police pulled out from Taksim’s Gezi Park on Saturday afternoon, taking away barricades and allowing in tens of thousands of protesters in an apparent move to end tensions from two days of anti-government protests.

Some protesters hurled objects at withdrawing officers and police vehicles, prompting officers to fire several rounds of tear gas to push back the crowds and resumed pulling out of Taksim Square.

The state-run Anatolia Agency said the protesters threw fireworks at police.

Earlier, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called on demonstrators to end their protest, but remained defiant. He said the government would press ahead with the redevelopment plans at Taksim that sparked the demonstrations.

Tensions were still high until afternoon as police deployed tear gas and pressurized water against groups of protesters trying to reach the central İstanbul square early on Saturday.

The protest grew out of anger at police's heavy-handed tactics to break up a peaceful sit-in to protect a park in Taksim Square on Friday. It turned into a wider protest and spread to other Turkish cities. Dozens have been injured in the scuffles.

On Saturday, police clashed with several groups of youths trying to reach Taksim. Some threw stones at police.

Some 500 people marched along the Bosporus Bridge from Asian shore of the city, toward Taksim, on the European side, but were met with pressurized water and tear gas that filled the air in a thick haze of smoke.

There were clashes between protestors and police in İzmir throughout the night. Police said 92 people were detained during the crackdown.

In Ankara, people gathered in front of the Turkish Parliament building to protest the Gezi Park demolition. They threw stones and Molotov cocktails at the police, who used tear gas to disperse the crowd. There were also protests in Eskişehir, Muğla, Konya, Yalova, Antalya and Bolu throughout the night and on Saturday.

The main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) cancelled a pre-scheduled rally in Kadıköy and said the party will join protests in Taksim.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's chief advisor İbrahim Kalın announced on his Twitter account on Saturday morning that İstanbul Mayor Kadir Topbaş will hold a meeting later in the day with representatives from the Taksim Gezi Park Platform and Chamber of Architects to find a solution to the park controversy.

The incidents had begun to turn violent by Thursday night, when hundreds of people joined protestors who had 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 on 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 surrounding neighborhoods as well as the Harbiye and Gümüşsuyu quarters.

The excessive force used by police has drawn outrage and condemnation from various circles, including the European Union, which strongly condemned the police's treatment of the protestors.  

At a press conference on Friday, İstanbul Governor Hüseyin Avni Mutlu said 63 people were detained and 12 were injured in the clashes. Yet, the figures dramatically rose overnight.  

He asserted that he fully respects people's freedom of expression and that there is not a "tree massacre" at Gezi Park. Governor Mutlu claimed that there are certain groups trying to cause tension between the police and protestors to make it look as if police do not care about nature. “We certainly know these groups and their aims. We also know that they have nothing to do with love for nature,” he added.

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