Turkey Police Evacuate Istanbul Protest Park after Protesters Vowed to Stay

إقرأ هذا الخبر بالعربية W460

Turkish riot police stormed an Istanbul park Saturday, firing tear gas to evacuate protesters, just hours after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned the occupation of the park must end, raising tensions in more than two weeks of anti-government unrest.

After using tear gas and water cannon to disperse protesters in Taksim Square, police entered the adjoining Gezi Park, clearing it within minutes and leaving only protesters' empty tents behind, an Agence France Presse reporter at the scene said.

Earlier on Saturday, protesters hunkered down in the park, rejecting an olive branch the government had hoped would end two weeks of nationwide civil unrest.

Erdogan's offer to halt the redevelopment of Gezi park that first ignited the protests was presented as a major concession but after conferring all night the protesters said their movement was about something bigger than a conservation struggle.

"We will continue our resistance in the face of any injustice and unfairness taking place in our country," the Taksim Solidarity group, seen as most representative of the protesters, said in a statement. "This is only the beginning."

The decision looked set to inflame tensions a day after Erdogan offered to halt the Gezi Park redevelopment until a court ruled on its legality, his first major conciliatory gesture yet in a bid to end the biggest challenge of his Islamist-rooted government's decade-long rule.

"Young people, you have remained there long enough and delivered your message.... Why are you staying?" Erdogan said in a speech broadcast on live television.

In the capital Ankara, meanwhile, riot police again fired tear gas and water cannon to disperse demonstrators overnight. Around 30 protesters were arrested.

Later on Saturday, tens of thousands of supporters of Erodgan's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) were expected to take to the streets of the capital for an election rally, in what has been billed as a show of strength for the embattled premier.

A peaceful sit-in to save Gezi Park's 600 trees from being razed prompted a brutal police response on May 31, spiralling into nationwide demonstrations against Erdogan, seen as increasingly authoritarian.

Nearly 7,500 people have been injured and four killed in the mass unrest, which has seen police use tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets against demonstrators who have hurled back fireworks and Molotov cocktails.

The United States and other Western allies have widely condemned Erdogan's handling of the crisis, undermining Turkey's image as model of Islamic democracy.

After taking a combative stance against the demonstrators, dismissing them as "looters" and "extremists", Erdogan on Friday held his first talks with an umbrella group called Taksim Solidarity, seen as most representative of the protesters.

He agreed to abide by a court-ordered suspension of the project -- a move welcomed by the protesters. He also said that if the court rules the Gezi Park redevelopment is legal, he wants to hold a popular vote on plans to build a replica of Ottoman-era military barracks on the site.

But Taksim Solidarity said the government had failed to address their list of demands, including a call for arrested demonstrators to be released and for police chiefs to be sacked.

Buoyed by the dialogue with Erdogan, the group said the protesters were "stronger" than ever. "The party in power has lost its legitimacy before the eyes of local and international media and failed to achieve its objective."

-- 'The general opinion is to resist' --

"We will stay because our demands have not been satisfied by the government," Gezi Park protester Ata told Agence France Presse, adding that the protests had given him renewed confidence in his country.

"I'm very hopeful now for the future of this country and also for my own future. Nothing will be the same in Turkey," the 32-year-old doctorate student said.

"The general opinion is to resist," said 20-year-old medicine student Pelin on her way to the park.

Opponents have accused Erdogan of repressing critics and of forcing conservative Islamic policies on the mainly Muslim but staunchly secular nation -- including religious education reforms and restrictions on alcohol sales.

While opposition to the premier is intense, the 59-year-old has been in power since 2002 and remains the country's most popular politician.

His AKP has won three elections in a row and took nearly half the vote in 2011, having presided over strong economic growth in the country of 76 million people.

Erdogan has repeatedly urged supporters to answer the protesters by voting for his AKP in local polls next year.

Britain's BBC meanwhile announced it had suspended ties with Turkey's private station NTV after it pulled a BBC programme that covered the initial failure of mainstream Turkish media to cover the protests.

Turkey's protesters have already criticised the country's mainstream media for failing to properly cover the story.

Comments 6
Thumb Chupachups 15 June 2013, 11:53

Who thinks this will develop into one if those things called arab spring ?

Thumb cityboy 15 June 2013, 12:57

This picture is what i imagine Geha looks like.

Missing -karim_m3 15 June 2013, 14:37

God bless the Turkish freedom fighters in their struggle for freedom against the tyrannical, terrorist Erdogan regime.

Missing mohammad_ca 16 June 2013, 07:13

oh yeah man he only won by 50 some percent of the vote whereas ASSad won by 99.99999 percent... lol

Default-user-icon Harrison (Guest) 06 July 2014, 13:24

Hello outstanding website! Does running a blog similar to this require a large amount of work?

I've virtually no expertise in programming but I had
been hoping to start my own blog soon. Anyway, if you
have any recommendations or techniques for new blog owners please share.
I understand this is off topic nevertheless I simply had
to ask. Kudos!

Default-user-icon Cleo (Guest) 17 July 2014, 13:17

Greetings! Very useful advice within this article! It's the little changes that
will make the greatest changes. Thanks for sharing!