Several protesters were injured when a wall they climbed collapsed during a police chase, and at least two people – including a prominent journalist – were hit in the head by tear gas canisters. Two opposition legislators were among several hospitalized after being affected by the gas, the private Dogan news agency reported.
Police moved in to disperse the crowd on the fourth day of the protest against a government plan to revamp Istanbul’s main square, Taksim. Officers then clashed with angry demonstrators in surrounding areas.
The protesters are demanding that the square’s park, Gezi, be protected from plans that include the construction of a shopping mall. Many also aired grievances against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Islamic-rooted government, which has been seen as displaying increasingly authoritarian and uncompromising tendencies in its third successive term in office.
Last week, the government enacted a law restricting the sale and advertising of alcohol which has alarmed secular Turks who fear an encroachment on more liberal lifestyles.
Earlier this week, the government went ahead with a ground-breaking ceremony for the construction of a disputed third bridge across the Bosporus Strait that some say will destroy the few remaining green areas of the city. It also named the bridge after a controversial Ottoman sultan believed to have ordered a massacre of a minority Shiite Muslim group, instead of choosing a more unifying figure.
Protesters in Gezi Park were seen holding up a large poster with a caricature depicting Erdogan as an Ottoman sultan with a caption that read: “The people won’t yield to you.”
Erdogan dismissed the protesters’ demands, saying the government would go ahead with renovation plans “no matter what they do.” The forestry minister said more trees would be planted than those uprooted at Gezi and has defended the government’s environmental record.
The dawn raid was the latest in a series of aggressive crackdown on protests. Human rights activists frequently accuse Turkish police of using inordinate force to break up protests and of excessively using tear gas and pepper spray against protesters.
The media rights group, Reporters without Borders, said Friday the injured journalist, Ahmet Sik, and others were deliberately targeted by police and urged Turkish authorities to halt the “excessive” use of force. A Reuters photographer was among the injured.
Amnesty International also deplored police brutality and said some officers should be brought to justice for their actions during the protest.
Demonstrators affected by the gas sought shelter at a luxury hotel at Taksim and were tended by guests. Police removed tents and demonstrators’ other belongings and mounted barricades around the park. Protesters were seen pelting police vehicles with stones and hurling gas canisters back at police. Others lay on the ground affected by the gas.