Turkish riot police stormed Taksim Square early Tuesday morning and clashed with protesters, one day before protests leaders were to meet with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Authorities said the police only entered the area ‘”to clear the banners and flags on [a] statue and the AKM cultural center.” However, they also told the demonstrators to retreat to the nearby Gezi park, also occupied by the protest movement now in its second week.
Turkish television showed live video of clashes between police and protesters, who said they would not leave Taksim Square. At least two people were injured,one of them hit in the back by a tear gas canister.
Authorities issued a written statement that the police would not enter Gezi Park, but regardless of the pretty words, police entered Taksim Square with armored vehicles and fired tear gas at crowds.
Protesters hurled firebombs at police, who responded by spraying them with water cannons.
Ironically, the police statement that its force simply wanted to clean up banners was issued via Twitter, the social network that Erdogan has said should be censored because it is being used to “slander” the government.
The wave of demonstrations began in response to government plans to redevelop Gezi Park. Ostensibly, it was a pro-environment reaction, but the park is a symbol of secular Turkey, and Erdogan’s development plan includes placing military barracks and a mosque in the park.
As in other countries, tens of thousands of others jumped on the opportunity to express their outrage stemming from a wide variety of religious and governmental issues, such as restricting the sale of alcohol, the growing influence of Islam in public affairs, and Erdogan’s growing authoritarianism.
The surprise storming of Taksim Square is likely to anger the protesters even more and remove any chance of trust in the prime minister. His hard-line stance has dumped fuel on the fire of demonstrators.
Three people have died and more than 5,000 have been treated for effects of tear gas fired by the police. One doctor said last week that the effects of the gassing indicate that police are using CR gas, a chemical which can be lethal.
Demonstrations against Erdogan have been staged in 78 cities across the country., and every time Erdogan spews condemnation of the “vandals” and “terrorists,” the protest movement grows.
Jeremy Salt, associate professor at Bilkent University in Ankara, told the Russian RT website that the rebellious social mood n the country is a result of Erdogan’s government taking the country “over a different path.”
Taksim Square symbolizes the modern secular Turkish Republic.
“Erdogan wants to turn it [Taksim Square] into symbol of something else. He wants to put up military barracks and a mosque there to totally change the face of Taksim Square to represent what he wants Turkey to become – which is a religious society,” Salt said.