Intense Protests in Turkey Prompt Question: Is this a Turkish Spring?

Protestors clash with riot police between Taksim and Besiktas in Istanbul, on June 1, 2013, during a demonstration against the demolition of the park. Turkish police on June 1 began pulling out of Istanbul’s iconic Taksim Square, after a second day of violent clashes between protesters and police over a controversial development project. Thousands of demonstrators flooded the site as police lifted the barricades around the park and began withdrawing from the square. What started as an outcry against a local development project has snowballed into widespread anger against what critics say is the government’s increasingly conservative and authoritarian agenda. (AP)

Anti-government demonstrations continued Saturday night after two days of intense demonstrations in Turkey that some have called the “Turkish Spring.” Journalists on the scene reported that the streets seemed to be quieting down on Sunday, though it was unclear if the protests were ending or if it was a temporary lull.

Reuters reports that overnight, “Pockets of die-hard demonstrators lit bonfires and scuffled with police.”

Bloomberg News writes: “Thousands of demonstrators in Istanbul smashed and overturned police cars and other vehicles overnight, using the wreckage to scrawl graffiti or seek shelter as violent anti-government protests entered a fourth day.”

According to Amnesty International, two protesters have been killed and more than 900 arrested. Reuters reports that about 1,000 have been injured in Istanbul and hundreds injured in other cities. Clashes between protesters and police took place in Ankara, while in Istanbul police used tear gas to disperse protesters who set fires in the streets on the way to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Istanbul office.

Also in the capital Ankara, police blocked demonstrators from marching on parliament and the prime minister’s office, according to AFP.

Intense Protests in Turkey Prompt Question: Is this a Turkish Spring?

A police officer fires toward Turkish protesters who clash with riot police near the former Ottoman palace, Dolmabahce, where Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan maintains an office in Istanbul, Turkey, late Saturday, June 1, 2013. Turkish police retreated from a main Istanbul square Saturday, removing barricades and allowing in thousands of protesters in a move to calm tensions after furious anti-government protests turned the city center into a battlefield. A second day of national protests over a violent police raid of an anti-development sit-in in Taksim square has revealed the depths of anger against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who many Turks view as increasingly authoritarian and dismissive of opposing views. (AP)

Protesters were emboldened when the government ordered police to withdraw on Saturday from Taksim Gezi Park – the epicenter of the protests – prompting thousands to pour into the streets.

Protesters celebrated their perceived victory in getting the police to withdraw from Taksim Square by dancing, singing, and lighting fireworks, shouting “Government, resign!” according to AFP.

A BBC correspondent reported that rainfall on Sunday “dampened protests, and many of the demonstrators went home to get some rest.” He added that the protests have largely taken place in the afternoon and evening hours.

Erdogan called for an end to the protests. Reuters reports:

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan made a defiant call for an end to the fiercest anti-government demonstrations in years on Saturday as authorities arrested almost a thousand people in protests across the country.

Riot police backed by armored vehicles and helicopters fired tear gas and water cannons in Istanbul and Ankara for a second day. Interior Minister Muammer Guler said 939 arrests had been made in more than 90 separate demonstrations.

The unrest was triggered by government plans for a replica Ottoman-era barracks housing shops or apartments in Istanbul’s Taksim Square, long a venue for political protest, but has widened into a broader show of defiance against Erdogan and his Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP).

Crowds of protesters chanting “shoulder to shoulder against fascism” and “government resign” marched on Taksim, where hundreds were injured in clashes the day before. Broken glass, rocks and an overturned car littered the square as night fell.

Intense Protests in Turkey Prompt Question: Is this a Turkish Spring?

AP

Though the protests began by voicing opposition to the construction project, it quickly took on a political bent, protesting Erdogan’s authoritarian and Islamist governance.

“From now on, the people will be taken into account,” protester Cemil Ardic, 30, told Bloomberg News in Taksim Square. “The prime minister was asking what we want. We want justice. We want democracy. We want our freedom.”

AFP quoted Erdogan who said at a Saturday rally, “It is true that there have been some mistakes, extremism in police response.”

“I call on the protesters to stop their demonstrations immediately,” he added, vowing to move forward with the plan to redevelop the public square.

In a televised speech, Erdogan said, “If this is about holding meetings, if this is a social movement, where they gather 20, I will get up and gather 200,000 people. Where they gather 100,000, I will bring together one million from my party.”

Twitter and Facebook were filled will urgings to continue to protests with the hashtag #OccupyGezi being a popular location for photos, videos and slogans.

A protester named Akin who did not provide a last name told Reuters, “We will stay until the end.”

“We are not leaving. The only answer now is for this government to fall. We are tired of this oppressive government constantly putting pressure on us. This is no longer about these trees [in Gezi Park],” he added.

Social media users posted allegations of police brutality. Reuters reports that helicopters fired “tear gas canisters into residential neighborhoods and police have used teargas to try to smoke people out of buildings.”

One Twitter user posted video purporting to show a man walking alone being beaten by police in Ankara. Another user posted this video and wrote, “20 cops are beating ONE WOMAN! This is beyond HUMANITY, BEYOND EVERYTHING!” TheBlaze is unable to verify those claims.

Reuters reported that one protester was hit by an armored police truck as it charged a barricade.

Secular Turks are upset with recent government Islamic-inspired policies including tightening restrictions on alcohol and cracking down on public displays of affection.

Asked if Taksim Square in Istanbul is reminiscent of Tahrir Square in Cairo where the so-called Arab Spring demonstrations began that led to the downfall of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Ofra Bengio, a Turkey specialist at Tel Aviv University told Israel Radio, she wasn’t sure but added, “What is certain is that the same genie that came out of the bottle, today it will be difficult to put it back inside.”