Turkish riot police break up protest rallies

Water cannon used to disperse people in Istanbul and Ankara observing memorial for those killed in recent protests.

Turkish riot police have fired water cannon to disperse thousands of anti-government demonstrators in Istanbul trying to observe a memorial for four people killed during recent anti-government protests.

Saturday’s unrest in Taksim Square ended six days of relative calm in Turkey’s biggest city, although it was a long way from matching the intensity of previous clashes there and in other cities that began more than three weeks ago.

In the capital Ankara, riot police fired water cannon and tear gas to disperse hundreds of protesters, some of them shouting slogans against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and at one location they built barricades to block a main street, according to witnesses.

In Istanbul, Turkey’s biggest city, demonstrators threw carnations at a phalanx of officers carrying shields who slowly advanced towards them, flanked by water cannon, to clear Taksim Square.

“Police, don’t betray your people!” activists shouted after they had been scattered into streets leading to the public square.

An Associated Press news agency journalist said police drove back protesters into side streets off Taksim – including the main pedestrian shopping street Istiklal – and later fired several rounds of tear gas and rubber bullets to scatter the crowds who refused to disperse.

There were no immediate reports of any injuries.

Police baton charge

Dogan news agency footage showed two police officers hitting protesters with batons and kicking them as they forced their way through Istiklal street.

A few demonstrators threw rocks at a police water cannon, while other protesters tried to calm them down and prevent them from attacking police.

The unrest began when police used force against campaigners opposed to plans to develop Gezi Park which adjoins Taksim Square.

The clashes in Istanbul on Saturday did not match the intensity of the previous demonstrations there and in other cities [AFP]

They quickly turned into a broader show of anger at what critics call Erdogan’s growing authoritarianism.

Earlier on Sunday, Erdogan, 59, told thousands of supporters in the Black Sea city of Samsun that the unrest played into the hands of Turkey’s enemies.

A crowd of some 15,000 of his AK Party faithful cheered and waved Turkish flags as he called on the public to give their answer to demonstrations at the ballot box when Turkey holds municipal elections next March.

The rally in the party stronghold was the fourth in a series of mass meetings which Erdogan has called since protests began in Istanbul at the start of June in an unprecedented challenge on the streets to his 10-year rule.

In a speech appealing to conservative grassroots support, Erdogan accused those involved in the protests in Turkey’s main western cities of being disrespectful towards Islam, the religion of the vast majority of the population of 76 million.

“Let them go into mosques in their shoes, let them drink alcohol in our mosques, let them raise their hand to our headscarved girls. One prayer from our people is enough to frustrate their plans,” Erdogan said, before tossing red carnations to the crowd after his speech.

Liberal-conservative divide

The protests have underlined divisions in Turkish society between religious conservatives who form the bedrock of Erdogan’s support and more liberal Turks who have swelled the ranks of demonstrators.

Erdogan, who has led Turkey through an economic boom and still enjoys broad popular support, claimed an “interest rate lobby” of speculators in financial markets had benefited from the unrest.

“Who won from these three weeks of protests? The interest rate lobby, Turkey’s enemies,” Erdogan said from a stage emblazoned with his portrait and a slogan calling for his supporters to “thwart the big game” played out against Turkey.

“Who lost from these protests? Turkey’s economy, even if to a small extent, tourism lost. They overshadowed and stained Turkey’s image and international power.”

Erdogan declared that the Latin American nation of Brazil, which has been hit by mass rallies in recent days, was the target of the same conspirators he claims are trying to destabilise Turkey.

“The same game is now being played over Brazil,” he said.

“The symbols are the same, the posters are the same, Twitter, Facebook are the same, the international media is the same. They [the protests] are being led from the same centre.

Erdogan will address a rally on Sunday in the eastern city of Erzurum, also an AK Party stronghold.

Verdict due

During his decade in power, which has seen him unchallenged on the political stage, Erdogan has curbed the powers of an army that toppled four governments in four decades and pursued an end to 30 years of Kurdish rebellion.

Hundreds of military officers have been jailed on charges of plotting a coup against him.

The ongoing protests have underlined divisions in Turkish society between religious conservatives and more liberal Turks [AFP]

A court near Istanbul is due to announce on August 5 its verdict on nearly 300 defendants accused of separate plots to overthrow the government.

The defendants include academics, journalists and politicians.

Also on Saturday, a court in Ankara charged 22 more people over alleged role in anti-government protests.

They were accused of acting on behalf of a far-left “terrorist” group, according to lawyers.

The court charged the 22 and ordered them to be detained, the Contemporary Lawyers Association said.

Three others were released and placed under judicial supervision, it said.

The indictments bring to at least 46 the number of people facing charges over the demonstrations.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies