(photo credit: Associated Press)
ANKARA, Turkey — Pro-Palestinian protesters scuffled with police Saturday near a hall where an Israeli volleyball team played in a game closed to the public because of security concerns.
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A relatively tolerant approach to the protests by authorities reflected Turkey's efforts to calibrate public outrage over the May 31 deaths of nine activists aboard a Turkish ship in an aid flotilla bound for Gaza — even as it maintains ties with Israel, which has been a chief supplier of military aid.
"Don't be dogs of Zionism. God will hold you to account," some demonstrators snarled at police in helmets who pushed them back with shields of reinforced plastic. "Esteemed friends," appealed a police commander with a loudspeaker. "Please don't cause trouble."
Turkey has threatened to cut diplomatic relations unless it gets an apology or an international investigation of the flotilla incident; Israel has refused to apologize and is conducting its own inquiry.
In the meantime, trade and other civilian contacts continue in a sign that both nations are unwilling for now to abandon a strained partnership between two key allies of the West.
The government imposed heavy security on the game, a 0-3 loss for Israel to Serbia in a European Volleyball League women's match, dispatching police to block roads around the venue. Israeli security officials in suits guarded the women, and the Israeli players rode in a bus with tinted windows to the indoor stadium, which was mostly empty save for trainers, staff and their relatives.
Only a few flags were visible in the stands, and they were Israeli. After a while, the supporters folded them neatly and tucked them away.
Police thwarted activists who sent email messages that urged supporters to attend the game in order to protest against Israel, advising them to arrive one by one, hiding Palestinian flags and banners, and then shouting slogans upon entering the hall. One message named the hotel housing the Israeli athletes, who were scheduled to play the winner of a Turkey-Bulgaria game for third place on Sunday.
Instead, protesters gathered two blocks from the stadium, some bearing posters with the image of 19-year-old Furkan Dogan, the youngest of the activists killed in the raid by Israeli naval commandos on the Mavi Marmara, a Turkish ship.
"Why kill and come here to play?" said protester Hanif Sinan, a landscape architect.
Hakan Albayrak, a columnist for Turkey's Yeni Safak newspaper who was a passenger on the Mavi Marmara during the raid, said it was a pity that more people had not attended the volleyball protest. About 100 milled around, some rapping police shields with the poles of their Palestinian flags and lobbing water bottles at security forces.
"These players are guests of our government," Albayrak said. "We cannot harm any Israeli in our country, but we have the right to protest."