Clashes in Turkey as protesters mourn teenager’s death

Hurryet Daily News: The cortege in Istanbul
4 min

Protestors clashed with police in Turkey on Wednesday as tens of thousands of people took to the streets to mourn a teenage boy who died from injuries suffered during last year's anti-government protests.


Riot police fired tear gas and water cannon at protestors in the capital Ankara, while in Istanbul, crowds shouting anti-government slogans lit a huge fire as they made their way to a cemetery for the burial of 15-year-old Berkin Elvan.

Elvan, who died in an Istanbul hospital on Tuesday after 269 days in a coma, was hit on the head by a tear gas canister while going to buy bread during the demonstrations against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan that gripped Turkey in June.

"Berkin's murderers are the AKP police," protesters shouted in Istanbul, referring to Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

"The rage of mothers will suffocate the killers," screamed others as they marched through the streets after Elvan's funeral.

His death prompted protests reminiscent of last year's unrest, when thousands of people clashed with police on Tuesday in at least 32 cities across Turkey.

FRANCE 24’s Turkey correspondent Jasper Mortimer said that while there had been little violence in Istanbul on Wednesday, police had clashed with demonstrators in other cities.

“In Istanbul the police have kept a distance from the funeral cortege and when they stay in the background things seem to go smoothly,” he said. “But in Ankara the police did clash, moving in with batons and pepper spray, and we have seen the same thing in Izmir, Turkey’s third-largest city.”

According to local media, some 20 demonstrators were injured and 150 arrests made after Tuesday's clashes.

International outrage

Protests were not limited to Turkey and thousands have taken to the streets across the globe, Mortimer said.

“What is particularly special about these protests is that Turks in no fewer than 26 cities in Europe and North America have come out in protest,” he said. “This is exceptional, and it shows that Turks around the world are outraged by what happened to Berkin.”

The renewed unrest is likely to add to pressure on Erdogan, whose government has been rocked by an escalating corruption scandal ahead of elections that could decide his fate.

"How many young people have to die for Erdogan to resign? My only wish is this fascism to end without spilling more blood," retired worker Atilla Izmirlioglu told AFP.

Elvan's story became a symbol of the heavy-handed police tactics against demonstrators in June, the biggest of Erdogan's 11-year-rule.

Erdogan has vowed to step down if the AKP, in power since 2002, loses local elections on March 30 that are seen as a key test of his popularity after last year's unrest and the graft probe.

President appeals for calm

President Abdullah Gul expressed his sadness Tuesday at the boy's death and appealed for calm, urging everyone "to do everything to prevent this from happening again".

The protests of June last year started as a relatively small environmentalist movement to save Istanbul's central Gezi Park but evolved into a nationwide wave of protests against Erdogan, who is seen as increasingly authoritarian.

An estimated 2.5 million people took to the streets across Turkey over three weeks in June to demand Erdogan's resignation. More than 8,000 people were injured, according to medics.

Elvan's death brought the toll from the unrest to at least eight, including one policeman.

Unions call for mass demonstrations

The boy's mother Gulsum Elvan had challenged Erdogan, who praised police "heroism" during the protests.

"It's not God who took my son away but Prime Minister Erdogan," the tearful mother told reporters on Tuesday.

Several political parties and trade unions had called for mass demonstrations on Wednesday after Elvan's funeral.

"Their children steal millions and our children are killed when they go to buy bread," said the Disk union, referring to a corruption scandal that broke in December, implicating Erdogan's inner circle and their families.

Since then, sporadic protests have continued against controversial measures taken by Erdogan in response to the scandal, including laws tightening state control over the Internet and the judiciary.

President Abdullah Gul moved to calm the outrage by expressing his condolences to the victim's family and warning against further violence on Thursday.

"I express my condolences to the family of the deceased and share their pain. I underline that everyone must be very careful not to let any new incident occur and allow any new pain to happen," he said.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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