Police fire tear gas to disperse May Day protests in Istanbul
Turkish police on Monday used tear gas and plastic bullets to disperse protesters seeking to defy a ban and march to Istanbul’s Taksim square to celebrate May Day, an AFP journalist reported.
Police tried to stop around 200 protesters in the Gayrettepe district on the European side of Istanbul who wanted to walk to the famous square in spite of the ban by city authorities.
The protesters — made up of left-wing groups — unfurled anti-government banners against the result of the April 16 referendum, which handed President Recep Tayyip Erdogan expanded powers.
“Long Live May Day, No to dictator!” the banners read. At least one protester was detained, according to the AFP journalist.
Turkish authorities imposed a ban on any demonstration at Taksim square, with police sealing off the avenue with barricades and halting traffic.
Police detained two women who attempted to unfurl banners at the square, the private Dogan news agency reported.
At least 13 people who attempted to defy the ban on Taksim were detained, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported.
Members of the group were wearing May Day T-shirts and chanting slogans: “No to Taksim ban.”
In the secular Istanbul district of Besiktas, at least 60 protesters were detained, an AFP photographer reported.
– 30,000 police in charge –
Some 30,000 police were on duty in Istanbul alone, with the governor’s office urging citizens not to heed calls for protests in non-official areas.
Police checked tourists and citizens passing through Taksim and all streets leading to the square were cordoned off with iron barricades.
Metro lines did not stop at Taksim square, which was a rallying ground for May Day celebrations until 1977, when at least 34 people were killed during demonstrations.
Authorities later opened up the square for celebrations but it was shut down again after it played host to anti-government protests in 2013 targeting Erdogan, then prime minister.
“Our people were massacred on May Day in 1977, workers were massacred,” a women protester who gave her name as Sevim told AFP.
“We are going to Taksim square because it is a meaningful place for the working class,” she said shortly before the police intervention in Gayrettepe.
This year’s May Day celebrations also come after the ‘Yes’ camp won last month’s referendum with 51.41 percent of the vote against 48.59 percent for the ‘No’ camp.
The opposition have alleged major irregularities but its complaints were thrown out by the election commission and a top court.
Yunus Ozgur, another demonstrator, said he wanted to march to Taksim square to protest “irregularities” during the referendum.
“We are frustrated,” he said. “Taksim has a political meaning. They (authorities) are scared of this. Taksim is ours.”
In the meantime, several thousand people and unions attended celebrations in an officially sanctioned rally in the Bakirkoy district near the international airport on the city’s western side.
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