Socialist Worker

Turkish police try to drown out protests in vicious crackdown

by Ron Margulies in Istanbul
Issue No. 2358

Protesters watch police spraying tear gas in Istanbul

Protesters watch police spraying tear gas in Istanbul (Pic: Carol Williams)


The occupation of Gezi Park has, for the moment, come to an end.

Thousands of police stormed Taksim Square and the park last Saturday night, once again using water cannon and pepper gas. 

In a well-prepared operation, they secured all roads leading to the square. Crowds rushing to help those in the park were stopped from getting anywhere near it.

The park was cleared quickly and violently. 

But demonstrations and barbarous police behaviour carried on across the city all night—and in Istanbul and many other cities the following day. 

So much pepper gas was used that people living in neighbourhoods without any fighting had to close their windows against fumes drifting in the wind.

Protests continued on Monday, and two union federations DISK and KESK called a strike. Unfortunately this showed the current weakness of Turkey’s trade union movement as they could only mobilise a few hundred people to march in Istanbul.

A delegation from the park had travelled to the capital Ankara and met prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan the day before the police attacked. 

They had voiced the demonstrators’ demands. These were that the park remains a park, and the governor and police chief of Istanbul be held to account for the police violence.

They also called for all persons in custody and under arrest be released, and the use of pepper gas to be banned.

Erdogan announced after the meeting that the government would wait for the outcome of a court case. 

This appeared to be a concession as the case—challenging the legality of the construction project—was initiated long before the current events. 

If the court ruled against the project, he said, the government would abide by the ruling. 

Referendum

If the court ruled in favour of the project, the government would hold a referendum. 

Everyone in the park had spent practically the whole day involved in collective discussions. It was decided to remove the barricade, and this was done.

There was no clear decision on what to do next.

The general feeling was that a referendum was not appropriate for an issue such as this.

Most individuals and organisations seemed sympathetic to a proposal to end the main occupation and keep a symbolic sentry-tent and a small number of people in the park.

Discussions were continuing when the police attacked.

Last year, Erdogan said that building in the park would go ahead and bluntly refused any suggestion that it should be re-considered. Now he has agreed to a referendum.

When the occupation started, Erdogan called the occupiers “riff-raff”. 

He said they were controlled by “foreign powers” and accused them of all sorts of ulterior motives. 

In the end he was forced to meet them.

The day after police cleared the park, municipal workers moved in and planted dozens of trees and thousands of flowers.

These are all signs that the prime minister knew how widespread and popular the movement was.

They are victories that show how Erdogan’s authoritarian inclinations can be beaten back.


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