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Police teargas activists marking Taksim anniversary

© Afp

Video by Jonathan CRANE

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-06-01

Police used teargas and water cannons on hundreds of demonstrators in Istanbul and Ankara marking the anniversary of anti-government rallies last year, hours after Turkey's premier warned that police would crack down on any fresh protests.

Police in Istanbul say they detained 154 people in Saturday's protests while 11 officers and 12 civilians were injured and treated in hospitals

Turkish police fired teargas again on Sunday at hundreds of protesters in Ankara as around 500 people gathered at Kizilay Square to stage a demonstration at the site where a 26-year-old protester was shot and killed by police on the same day last year.

Ethem Sarisuluk was one of at least eight people killed in 2013 when police violently cracked down on the anti-government protests that swept the country.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned hours before widespread clashes erupted on Saturday that police had orders to disperse any new protests taking place in Istanbul's Taksim Square, as defiant activists rallied to mark a year since the launch of a deadly May 2013 crackdown on demonstrators.

A government ban on protests in the square remains in place. Security was tight around Taksim Square and around Istanbul, with some 25,000 police deployed, streets to the square blocked off and public transport curtailed.

"Our security forces have received clear-cut instructions and will do whatever is necessary, from A to Z," Erdogan told thousands of supporters at an Istanbul rally.

"You will not be able to take to [Taksim] like you did last year because you are obliged to abide by the laws... If you do not, the state will do whatever is necessary for its security," he said.

What began as a campaign last year to save Istanbul’s Gezi Park from being turned into a shopping mall spiralled into weeks of anti-government protests that eventually threatened to bring down Erdogan's administration.

Melissa spent 15 days camped out in Gezi Park, part of central Istanbul's Taksim Square, with other activists last year. She told FRANCE 24 that she had no hesitations about going back.

"People died protecting it, people died during the protests all over Turkey, so there is no turning back,” she said.

“If they are trying to demolish it again, we're going to be there, again and again."

Deadly crackdown

On May 31 last year police attempted to break up the Gezi Park protest camp with batons, tear gas and rubber bullets.

Anger over their heavy-handedness and anti-government feeling caused three million Turks to hit the streets across the country.

Over a dozen people died and thousands were injured in clashes with the police over the following months.

Erdogan's 11-year grip on power was then further tested by a series of corruption scandals, to which he responded by placing controversial restrictions on the Internet, including bans on Twitter and Facebook.

Despite the scandals, Erdogan continued to enjoy a large following particularly amongst poorer voters and those in favour of his Islamic-rooted AKP, which scored a crushing victory in local elections in March.

But May’s disaster at the Soma mine in eastern Turkey, which saw 301 people killed, renewed outrage against Erdogan's his leadership, his handling of the tragedy severely criticised.

With Taksim Solidarity, an umbrella group of labour unions, civil society groups and opposition parties, promising a turnout of millions for Saturday’s anniversary demonstrations, Erdogan’s troubles show no sign of abating.

"The ghost of Gezi continues to hover over Erdogan," said Soli Ozel, a political scientist at the Istanbul-based Kadir Has University. "The protests may have been quelled, but the discontent is still there and will spread."

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and AP)

Date created : 2014-05-31

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