Protesters return to Turkey’s Taksim Square
Istanbul’s iconic square again occupied by anti-government demonstrators as clashes erupt in Ankara.
Thousands of Turkish protesters have returned to Istanbul’s Taksim Square a day after police pulled out from the area in the wake of violent anti-government demonstrations.
The square, the focus of the demonstrations, was calm on Sunday morning, but protesters began reoccupying the site in the afternoon. They said their fight against the policies of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government is far from over.
Earlier, residents helped with cleaning up some of the debris left by Saturday’s battles. Al Jazeera’s correspondent Rawya Rageh said there were burned buses, cars and other debris around the square, with graffiti sprayed across many walls and vehicles.
Meanwhile, clashes between protesters and police erupted in the capital, Ankara, for a second day. Smashed shop windows were evidence of the previous evening’s violence.
Al Jazeera’s Gonca Senay, reporting from the city, said protesters had initially gathered in Kizilay Square on Sunday singing songs and calling for the government to resign.
Then clashes started, with police firing tear gas and water cannons and protesters hurling stones towards police.
Protests were held in dozens of other cities on Saturday, with many carrying on late into the night and Sunday morning.
Muammer Guler, the interior minister, said police had detained 939 protesters in more than 90 demonstrations across the country. Some have since been released.
He said 53 civilians and 26 police were injured. One of the injured civilians was in intensive care unit at an Istanbul hospital.
The Istanbul protest began last Monday as a peaceful sit-in at Gezi Park across Taksim Square. The demonstrators had been preventing workers from razing some of the 600 trees in the park, the last patch of green in the commercial area, to make way for the restoration of Ottoman-era military barracks.
Residents fear that the barracks will be turned into a shopping centre.
The demonstration soon took a violent turn, with police shooting tear gas at the protesters. The protests then escalated into widespread anger against what critics say is the government’s increasingly conservative and authoritarian agenda.
They cite the restrictions on alcohol sales and warnings against public displays of affection.
Erdogan admitted on Saturday there may have been some cases of “extreme” police action.
“It is true that there have been some mistakes, extremism in police response,” he said.
However, he remained defiant, pledging to push forward with the plans to redevelop Taksim Square.
Erdogan said the redevelopment of Gezi Park was being used as an excuse for the unrest and warned the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), which had been given permission to hold a rally in Istanbul, against stirring tensions.
Both the UK and US called on Turkey’s government to exercise restraint.