ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkey’s government on Saturday appeared to be trying to placate demonstrators on the second day of anti-government demonstrations, even as police let off more tear gas and pressurized water against protesters trying to reach a main square in Istanbul or the Parliament building in the capital, Ankara.
The protests grew out of anger at heavy-handed police tactics to break up a peaceful sit-in by people trying to protect a park in Istanbul’s main Taksim square on Friday. Bulent Arinc, the deputy prime minister, said the government was wrong to break up the peaceful protest with tear gas and said he welcomed a court’s decision that suspended the uprooting of the park.
“It would have been more helpful to try and persuade people who said they didn’t want a shopping mall instead of spraying them with tear gas,” Arinc told reporters. He was referring to government plans to revamp Taksim, which officials have said include building a shopping mall and the reconstruction of a former Ottoman army barracks.
The park demonstration turned into a wider protest against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is seen as becoming increasingly authoritarian, and spread to other Turkish cities despite the court decision to temporarily halt the demolition of the park. A human rights group said hundreds of people were injured in scuffles with police that lasted through the night.
The leader of Turkey’s pro-secular, main opposition party called on Erdogan to immediately withdraw police from Taksim and to publicly announce that he was abiding by the court decision. “Show us that you are the prime minister, pull back your police,” Kemal Kilicdaroglu said.
On Saturday, police clashed with several groups of youths trying to reach Taksim, the city’s main hub and shopping center. Some threw stones at police. A few thousand people marched along the Bosporus Bridge from the Asian shore of the city, toward Taksim, on the European side, but were met with pressurized water and tear gas that filled the air in a thick cloud of smoke.
Police detained a group of protesters who ran into a hotel to shelter from the gas, the private Dogan news agency reported. Ozturk Turkdogan, the head of the Turkish Human Rights Association, said hundreds of people in several cities were injured in the police crackdown and a few hundred people were arrested. The Dogan news agency said 81 demonstrators were detained in Istanbul.
The protest was seen as a demonstration of the anger had already been building toward Turkish police who have been accused of using inordinate force to quash demonstrations and of firing tear gas too abundantly, including at this year’s May Day rally.
There is also resentment from mainly pro-secular circles toward the prime minister’s Islamic-rooted government and toward Erdogan himself, who is known for his abrasive style. He is accused of adopting increasingly uncompromising stance and showing little tolerance of criticism.
In a surprise move last week, the government quickly passed legislation curbing the sale and advertising of alcoholic drinks, alarming secularists. Many felt insulted when he defended the legislation by calling people who drink “alcoholics.”
“The use of (tear) gas at such proportions is unacceptable,” Turkdogan told The Associated Press. “It is a danger to public health and as such is a crime. Unfortunately, there isn’t a prosecutor brave enough to stand up to police.”
“The people are standing up against Erdogan who is trying to monopolize power and is meddling in all aspects of life,” he said. Thousands marched through streets in several cities on Friday, calling on Erdogan to resign. Cars honked and residents banged on pots and pans in a show of solidarity with protesters.
In the capital Ankara, thousands gathered at a small park and swelled into a popular shopping street. Many were seen drinking in the street protest of government restrictions on the sale and advertising of alcohol. Police broke up groups that tried to march toward the Parliament building, a few hundred meters (yards) away.