Turkey protests rage for second day

Police fire tear gas and water cannon in Istanbul as prime minister stands firm on controversial redevelopment project.

Istanbull gas
Riot police have pushed protesters back from Taksim Square [AP]

Police in Istanbul have fired tear gas and water cannons at protesters trying to reach a symbolic landmark during a second day of anti-government demonstrations.

Protesters chanted “unite against fascism” and “government resign” on Saturday as they tried to reach Taksim Square, which has long been a venue for political unrest.

Al Jazeera’s Gokhan Yivciger reported that there were fierce clashes at police barricades in Harbiye district, about 2km from the square, with riot squads firing salvos of tear gas. An estimated 10,000 people have gathered in the district.

Police also quelled protests this morning in Besiktas neighbourhood, which is on the shores of the Bosphorus nearer to the square.

Saturday’s violence came a day after scores of people were injured in clashes in central Istanbul, with 60 people detained around Taksim. Broken glass and rocks were strewn across a main shopping street near the square.

The protest at Taksim’s Gezi Park began late on Monday after trees were torn up over a government redevelopment plan. It has now widened into a broader demonstration against what protesters see as increasingly authoritarian rule.

“The protesters are saying that this is not about trees anymore,” said Al Jazeera’s Rawya Rageh, reporting from Istanbul.

Ibrahin Kalin, the chief adviser to the prime minister, said police had been ordered to withdraw from the area. He told Al Jazeera that tear gas had been fired in response to a group of protesters attacking police as they were leaving the premises.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan acknowledged on Saturday that it was a mistake to use tear gas on the public protesting earlier this week on the planned demolition of Gezi Park.

“There was a mistake while using pepper gas by police forces. Okay. I have ordered the Interior Ministry to investigate this. It was excessive” he said. He, however, said the redevelopment plan for the park would go ahead.

Growing disquiet

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party, called on Erdogan to withdraw police from the Gezi Park area, and criticised Istanbul governor Huseyin Avni Mutlu over his handling of the situation.

“From now on, in reality, there is no governor in Istanbul”, Kilicdaroglu said in a statement.

The unrest reflects growing disquiet at Erdogan’s administration and his Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party.

There have been protests against the government’s stance on the conflict in neighbouring Syria, a tightening of restrictions on alcohol sales and warnings against public displays of affection.

However, Erdogan has overseen a transformation in Turkey during his decade in power, turning its economy from crisis-prone into Europe’s fastest-growing.

Per capita income has tripled in nominal terms since his party rose to power.

He also remains by far Turkey’s most popular politician, and is widely viewed as its most powerful leader since Mustafa Kemal Ataturk founded the modern secular republic on the ashes of the Ottoman Empire 90 years ago.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies