Istanbul’s Gezi Park turned into an entrenched camp in the early hours of Wednesday morning, as clashes continued to erupt in adjacent Taksim Square. FRANCE 24’s Mehdi Chebil reports from the field.
Tension is high among those holed up in Istanbul’s Gezi Park.
As a breeze sent clouds of tear gas residue drifting above tents, exhausted anti-government protesters expressed concerns that the clashes between police and demonstrators in adjacent Taksim Square would be a prelude to their own forced expulsion.
“After the police arrived in Taksim Square, we saw people we had never seen before come here,” said 27-year-old protester Dinçer, who has been camping out in Gezi Park for nearly two weeks. “They were extremely virulent and we could tell that they were there to provoke and give the police an excuse to enter the park.”
The idea that agitators sent by the government incited a face-off with the police is common among protesters in Gezi, who are still reeling from the large-scale assault launched by police Tuesday on Taksim Square.
Many are bitter, convinced that a trap set by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan will inevitably end up ensnaring them.
Woodstock-like ambiance turns tense
Attempts to maintain the non-violent nature of the movement are fraying, as several demonstrators openly support those who fought back against police in Taksim Square.
“This government is incredibly vicious, and has been trying to turn citizens against one another,” exclaimed Aysel indignantly. This 26-year-old businesswoman says she is honoured to exchange her work attire for a construction hat and gas mask when he joins protesters in the park every night.
“It’s all part of the government’s plan to portray us as depraved, alcoholic sex fiends,” Aysel continued. “But the fact that Erdogan is giving ten speeches per day shows, above all, that he is truly frightened by our movement.”
The sudden change in ambiance from a pacifistic, almost Woodstock-like gathering to a tense military encampment has, for the moment, not managed to scare off the young, largely Westernised Turkish citizens at the heart of the anti-government movement.
But the coming days may very well put their determination to the test.
Tension mounts in Gezi Park
Anti-government protesters in Gezi Park link up to prevent police from entering the encampment. Dozens of officers were briefly stationed near the park’s entrance Tuesday afternoon, sparking fears of a forced expulsion. © Mehdi Chebil
The police officers withdrew from the park without trying to enter by force. © Mehdi Chebil
A police negotiator (centre) ordered protesters to stop their procession toward Taksim Square and to stay in Gezi Park. © Mehdi Chebil
Tear gas canisters regularly landed in the part of the encampment located along the street that saw most of the clashes with the police. © Mehdi Chebil
Tension in Gezi Park is high, with people regularly passing through to evacuate the injured. © Mehdi Chebil
Taksim Square was shaken by chaotic clashes for several hours overnight. © Mehdi Chebil
Seren and Dinçer are among the first protesters to have set up camp in Gezi Park. They say they do not fear a police raid and want to stay in the park no matter what. © Mehdi Chebil
The majority of those camped out in Gezi Park are now equipped with masks in order to breathe more easily in an area regularly targeted with tear gas. The Turkish word “Devrim” on the banner means “Revolution”. © Mehdi Chebil
Ayhan, a 39-year-old computer programmer, believes that several people who were throwing stones in the morning were undercover police officers trying to tarnish the movement’s reputation. © Mehdi Chebil
26-year-old Aysel hopes that Turkey’s Justice and Development Party will ultimately bow to pressure and force Erdogan to step down. © Mehdi Chebil
A police truck equipped with a water cannon was targeted by a firecracker, one of the “weapons” used by protesters. © Mehdi Chebil
The night was also exhausting for police officers, who were regularly harassed by small groups of demonstrators. © Mehdi Chebil
Date created : 2013-06-12