Turkey Protestors Hold Istanbul Square After Days Of Violent Clashes

By: CNN
By: CNN

ISTANBUL, Turkey (CNN) -- Residents of Turkey's largest city awoke Sunday to scenes of rain-soaked municipal workers and volunteer activists cleaning up the garbage left after days of violent clashes and angry demonstrations against the government.

Demonstrators remained in control of Taksim Square after Turkish security forces abandoned the district Saturday following 36 hours of vicious clashes.

Protesters erected makeshift barricades at the entrance to the square, which holds huge symbolic importance for Turkey's leftist political parties and labor movement.

Throughout Friday and Saturday, this bustling neighborhood was a battleground as riot police used water cannons, tear gas, pepper spray and armored personnel carriers to prevent protesters from entering this transit and commercial hub at the heart of the city. Saturday afternoon, police withdrew after firing several last volleys of tear gas at crowds, sending thousands of screaming people fleeing for cover.

Police continued to clash with demonstrators in other districts of Istanbul as well as in the capital, Ankara, late Saturday night.

Turkish authorities said more than 900 people have been detained and scores injured in protests and clashes in 30 of Turkey's 81 provinces over the past four days.

What began as a small sit-in to protest against the government's plan to demolish a park in Taksim Square has swelled to the biggest protest movement against Turkey's prime minister since Recep Tayyip Erdogan was elected more than 10 years ago. The crowds have been chanting "Tayyip resign" and "shoulder to shoulder against fascism."

In a televised speech on Sunday, Erdogan remained defiant.

"I ask in the name of God, Tayyip Erdogan is a dictator? If you are the kind of person who can call someone who serves their people a dictator then I have no words for you," Erdogan said.

He went on to praise his accomplishments overseeing a decade of unprecedented economic growth in Turkey. He also defended his record as a leader who has planted many trees.

Court to hear case at center of Istanbul protests

"They are putting on airs saying we massacre trees," he said. "We have planted approximately 2 billion trees."

But many of the demonstrators say their anger is no longer directed against the proposed government plan to demolish Gezi Park, the last green space in central Istanbul.

"This park was just the ignition of all that," said Yakup Efe Tuncay, a 28-year old demonstrator who carried a Turkish flag while walking through the park Saturday. "The Erdogan government is usually considered as authoritarian. He has a big ego; he has this Napoleon syndrome. He takes himself as a sultan. ... He needs to stop doing that. He's just a prime minister."

The scope of the protests shows there is a bigger issue, about freedom of speech and accusations of authoritative government.

"People are entitled to disagreement with the government, they can exercise their democratic rights, but they can do so within the context of a democratic society," Erdogan's chief adviser, Ibrahim Kalin, said Saturday.

International human rights groups Amnesty International and Greenpeace have denounced what they describe as excessive use of police force against peaceful protesters.

A spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton issued a statement that said Ashton "regrets disproportionate use of force by members of the Turkish police." Ashton also called for talks between the two sides.


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