Turkish police went to war against protesters Saturday night, using rubber bullets and tear gas to clear thousands from Taksim Square and on pedestrians trying to cross a foot bridge, where drivers also suffered the effects of the gas.
Hundreds of people, including motorists, were injured, while official government statements claimed the number of wounded was 44.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had issued an ultimatum to the protesters to leave Taksim Square in favor of a pro-Erdogan rally scheduled for Sunday.
One hour later, police, backed by armored vehicles, raided the square and attacked pedestrians before they could cross a foot bridge leading to the square.
Turkey’s European Union minister Egemen Bağış said in a televised interview that anyone trying to enter Taksim Square will be treated like a “terrorist.”
He lived up to his word.
“We tried to flee and the police pursued us. It was like war,” Claudia Roth, a German politician who was on the scene to show her support for the protesters, told Reuters. “There are dozens of injured shot with rubber bullets or who couldn’t go to the hospital,” according to the Taksim Solidarity Platform that represents the Gezi Park protesters.
In a statement quoted by Turkey’s Hurriyet News, the Platform added, “The attack with rubber bullets, intense tear gas and stun grenades at a moment when there were a lot of women, kids and elderly people were at the park is a crime against humanity.
“This attack that took place at a moment when there was no demonstration at the park shows that the prime minister’s intention is to increase the social polarization and satisfy his ambition of authority by oppressing his people.”
The Platform and Erdogan struck a compromise Thursday night whereby development plans for Gezi Park would be altered. Erdogan apparently has used the agreement as a signal, or excuse, to clear the protesters and stage his own pro-government rally 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,” Erdogan told supporters in Ankara on Saturday.
Hurriyet quoted sources last week that the Israel’s Mossad boss met with Turkish intelligence officials and that Syria and/or Iran may be behind the protest movement.
Regardless, Erdogan’s heavy-handed response has only made the protest movement more popular, as has happened in every other Muslim country where brute force has been used to quell protests.
Erdogan, like other leaders of Muslim regimes, cast Twitter and social networks as the villain. He said Twitter was begin used to slander the government and therefore should not be allowed.
However, it was Turkish President Abdullah Gul who took to Twitter Saturday, saying that “everyone should return home now,” and that “the channels for discussion and dialogue” are open.
More than five people have been killed by police and 10 people have lost an eye after being hit by plastic bullets since the protest movement began three weeks ago over a plan to redevelop Gezi Park. The violent response by police resulted in much larger demonstrations against police violence.