Turkey protests: Third day of anti-government unrest

 

The BBC's Ben Thompson describes "barricades of trees and benches" near the prime minister's office

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Tens of thousands of people have staged a third day of protests in Turkish towns and cities.

Protesters erected barricades near the prime minister's office in Istanbul's Besiktas district, and police responded with water cannon and tear gas.

The protests were sparked by plans to build on an Istanbul park but have broadened into anti-government unrest across the country.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan says the protesters are undemocratic.

He has accused opposition parties of provoking the demonstrations, which represents the most sustained anti-government unrest for a number of years.

Interior Minister Muammer Guler told state media more than 1,700 people had been arrested during protests in 67 cities, though many had since been released.

At the scene

Anyone not following events might assume there was a big festival in Taksim Square: live concerts, people singing and dancing. But once the music stops, the chants and slogans take over, calling on the PM to resign. "People are here! We are the people!" they yell in their thousands. Another common chant is: "Taksim is ours. Istanbul is ours."

Just off Taksim Square, in front of a TV news station where the prime minister earlier gave an interview calling the protestors "plunderers", there is a sit-in protest. People frustrated with the lack of coverage of events on TV channels shout: "Reporters resign! Come, join us!"

A few miles away in Besiktas district things aren't as peaceful. A protester tells me that the police intervened to disperse the crowd and used tear gas and water cannons. But he says: "We are determined to stay peaceful."

Hundreds of people are reported to have been injured in the clashes.

Barricades

Protests over the demolition of Gezi Park to make way for the rebuilding of an Ottoman era barracks, reportedly to house a shopping centre, began on a small scale earlier this week.

Protesters said the park was one of the few green spaces in Istanbul, and were angry at the loss of public space for commercial purposes.

But after police used tear gas and water cannon were used to break up the protests, triggering accusations of excessive force, the numbers in Taksim Square, next to the park, rocketed.

Ten of thousands of people took to the streets of towns and cities, many calling on the government to resign.

Police pulled out on Saturday afternoon, reportedly after President Abdullah Gul urged restraint, and by Sunday there was a carnival atmosphere.

But clashes continued, including in the Besiktas district, where police fired tear gas against protesters, some of whom built barricades or threw stones at Mr Erdogan's Istanbul office.

In Ankara, police fired tear gas at thousands of protesters who were attempting to march on the prime minister's office there.

There were further reports of tear gas in Izmir, on the Aegean coast, and in Adana in the south.

Timeline of Gezi Park protests

Gezi Park, Istanbul (2 June 2013)

1 May Protesters defy a ban imposed because of construction work and flood into Taksim Square. Clashes break out with police.

28 May Small group of people attempt to block the demolition of trees in the park. Police use tear gas and the cutting goes ahead.

29 May Crowds in the park grow, some setting up camp.

31 May Police move in to evict protesters, using tear gas and water cannon. Several people are injured. Protests against the police response break out in Izmir, Ankara and elsewhere. The interior ministry promises to investigate.

1 June Tens of thousands converge on Istanbul's Taksim Square. PM Erdogan condemns the protests and vows development will go ahead. Numbers in the square later swell as the police pull out.

2 June Protests continue in several towns and cities. Mr Erdogan condemns the "plunderers" but says a mosque not a mall will be built in the square.

The BBC's James Reynolds in Istanbul says the protests reflect the public's anger with the Turkish government, which they believe is becoming increasingly authoritarian.

They fear Mr Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) is trying to impose conservative Islamic values on the officially secular country and infringe on their personal freedoms, our correspondent says.

'A few looters'

Last week the government quickly passed legislation curbing the sale and advertising of alcoholic drinks, which analysts say alarmed secularists.

Many felt insulted when he defended the legislation by calling people who drink "alcoholics".

In a televised interview on Sunday, Mr Erdogan, in power since 2002, denied accusations of being a dictator, saying he was "a servant of the people".

He said the protests were being provoked by the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), and that those taking part were trying to undermine democracy, dismissing them as "a few looters".

Mr Erdogan also criticised social media, through which the protests have been co-ordinated and discussed, calling Twitter a "curse" and an "extreme version of lying".

The crackdown has been condemned by rights groups and by the US.

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