Thousands of people took to the streets of Istanbul overnight on Sunday,
erecting barricades and starting bonfires, after riot police firing
teargas and water cannon stormed a park at the center of two weeks of
Lines of police backed by armored
vehicles sealed off Taksim Square in the center of the city as officers
raided the adjoining Gezi Park late on Saturday, where protesters had
been camped in a ramshackle settlement of tents.
Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had warned hours earlier that security
forces would clear the square, the center of more than two weeks of
fierce anti-government protests that spread to cities across the
country, unless the demonstrators withdrew before a ruling party rally
in Istanbul on Sunday.
"We have our Istanbul rally tomorrow. I
say it clearly: Taksim Square must be evacuated, otherwise this
country's security forces know how to evacuate it," he told tens of
thousands of flag-waving supporters at a rally in Ankara.
took to the streets in several neighborhoods across Istanbul following
the raid on Gezi Park, ripping up metal fences, paving stones and
advertising hoardings to build barricades and lighting bonfires of trash
in the streets.
Some chanted, "Tayyip, resign."
television footage showed groups of demonstrators blocking a main
highway to Ataturk airport on the western edge of the city, while to the
east, several hundred walked towards a main bridge crossing the
Bosphorus waterway towards Taksim.
Thousands more rallied in the
working-class Gazi neighbourhood, which saw heavy clashes with police in
the 1990s, while protesters also gathered in Ankara around the central
Kugulu Park, including opposition MPs who sat in the streets in an
effort to prevent the police from firing teargas.
public-sector union confederation, KESK, which has some 240,000 members,
said it would call a national strike for Monday, while a second union
grouping said it was holding an emergency meeting to decide whether to
join the action.
"One million people to Taksim" - a call for more
anti-government demonstrations later on Sunday - was a top-trending
hashtag on Twitter.
"The police brutality aims at clearing the
streets of Istanbul to make way for Erdogan's meeting tomorrow," said
Oguz Kaan Salici, Istanbul president of the main opposition People's
Republican Party. "Yet it will backfire. People feel betrayed."
similar police crackdown on peaceful campaigners in Gezi Park two weeks
ago provoked an unprecedented wave of protest against Erdogan, drawing
in secularists, nationalists, professionals, trade unionists and
students who took to the streets in protest at what they see as his
The unrest, in which police fired teargas and
water cannon at stone-throwing protesters night after night in cities
including Istanbul and Ankara, left four people dead and about 5,000
injured, according to the Turkish Medical Association.
protesters fled into an upscale hotel at the back of Gezi Park during
Saturday night's raid, several of them vomiting, as clouds of teargas
and blasts from percussion bombs - designed to create confusion rather
than injure - engulfed the park.
"We tried to flee and the police
pursued us. It was like war," Claudia Roth, co-chair of Germany's
Greens party, who had gone to Gezi Park to show her support, told
The Gezi Park protesters, who oppose government plans to
build a replica Ottoman-era barracks there, had defied repeated calls
to leave but had started to reduce their presence in the park after
meetings with Erdogan and the local authorities.
unbelievable. They had already taken out political banners and were
reducing to a symbolic presence in the park," Koray Caliskan, a
political scientist at Bosphorus University, told Reuters from the edge
of Gezi Park.
Erdogan told protesters on Thursday that he would
put the Gezi Park plans on hold until a court rules on them. It was a
softer stance after two weeks in which he called protesters "riff-raff"
and said the plans would go ahead regardless.
But at the first of
two rallies this weekend by his ruling AK Party, he reverted to a
defiant tone, telling supporters on the outskirts of Ankara that he
would crush his opponents in elections next year.
intervention so soon after Erdogan spoke took many by surprise on a busy
Saturday night around Taksim, one of Istanbul's main social hubs, not
least after President Abdullah Gul, who has struck a more conciliatory
tone than Erdogan, said earlier on Saturday that talks were progressing
Erdogan has long been Turkey's most popular politician, his
AK Party winning three successive election victories, each time with a
larger share of the vote, but his critics complain of increasing
He has said the AK Party rallies in Ankara and
Istanbul are meant to kick off campaigning for local elections next year
and are not related to the protests, but they are widely seen as a show
of strength in the face of the demonstrations.