Turkey protests: Uneasy calm in Istanbul's Taksim Square

  • 12 June 2013
  • From the section Europe
Media captionProtesters build Gezi Park barricades

There is an uneasy calm in central Istanbul after a night of clashes which saw Turkish riot police disperse anti-government demonstrators.

Taksim Square, the focus of days of protest, is now largely cleared.

But protesters have regrouped in nearby Gezi Park. Its proposed redevelopment sparked anger that has widened into nationwide anti-government unrest.

PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said there will be no tolerance of people he accuses of seeking to harm Turkey.

The demonstrators accuse Mr Erdogan of becoming increasingly authoritarian and trying to impose conservative Islamic values on a secular state.

Mr Erdogan is due to meet a group of 11 people - including artists, architects and a social media specialist - whom he hopes can mediate with the protesters.

It had been suggested he would hold talks with protest organisers, but they told the BBC that they had not been approached by the prime minister - and would refuse to meet him even if they were.

They added that they did not recognise any of the group that Mr Erdogan was due to meet as representatives of the protesters in the park.

In Istanbul and the capital, Ankara, thousands of lawyers turned out to protest against the detention on Tuesday of at least 40 of their colleagues who had gathered to express their opposition to the police action.

"Our friends who had been detained in Istanbul were taken under custody just because they were reading a press release," said one of the lawyers in Ankara, Mehmet Toker. "We are here to defend freedom of speech."

Taxis and commuters returned to Taksim Square on Wednesday, which a day earlier had been the scene of repeated, violent clashes between police and protesters - some of whom threw stones and firebombs. Many peaceful demonstrators were also caught in the clashes.

Thousands converged on the square as night fell and were repelled by water cannon, rubber bullets and tear gas.

Dispersed demonstrators sought shelter nearby, including in Gezi Park. Police said they did not plan to enter the park.

Volunteers set up makeshift clinics to treat the injured.

Security forces cleared the square, only for the demonstrators to return.

Twelve days in Taksim Square

Protests in Taksim Square since 1 June

Image caption 1 June: Taksim Square becomes focus for protests over the development of Gezi Park after clashes with police.
Image caption 3 June: Protesters establish camps in Taksim Square with makeshift facilities, from libraries to food centres.
Image caption 9 June: The protests continue for a 10th day, with thousands gathering in central Istanbul and other cities.
Image caption 11 June: Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan warns he will not show any more tolerance.
Image caption 11 June: Protesters clash with police, who use water cannon, tear gas and rubber bullets to clear the area.
Image caption 12 June: Morning sees the square empty of protesters although some have regrouped near Gezi Park.

Istanbul Governor Huseyin Avni Mutlu had earlier struck a conciliatory note, but he went on television on Tuesday night to declare: "We will continue our measures in an unremitting manner, whether day or night, until marginal elements are cleared and the square is open to the people."

'It's over'

Mr Erdogan has defended the police action, saying that an environmental movement against the demolition of the park had been hijacked.

"For those who want to continue with the incidents I say: 'It's over,' he said.

"As of now we have no tolerance for them."

Media captionJeremy Bowen reports from Istanbul

The protests began on 31 May.

The Turkish Human Rights Foundation says four people have been killed, including one policeman.

Some 5,000 protesters have been treated for injuries and the effects of tear gas, while officials say 600 police officers have also been injured.

Protests have also occurred in Ankara, with smaller demonstrations in many other cities.

European Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton said the unrest represented a "key moment" for Turkey, and a "chance for it to renew its commitment to European values".

Italian Foreign Minister Emma Bonino said the protests were the "first serious test for the endurance of democracy in Turkey and its accession to Europe", while German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle expressed his concern in a statement.

"We expect Prime Minister Erdogan to de-escalate the situation, in the spirit of European values, and to seek a constructive exchange and peaceful dialogue," he said.

The United States, a key ally of Turkey, has urged dialogue between government and protesters.

"We believe that Turkey's long-term stability, security and prosperity is best guaranteed by upholding the fundamental freedoms of expression, assembly and association, and a free independent media," White House spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said.

Meanwhile, Turkey's broadcasting regulator has fined four small Turkish TV channels over their coverage of anti-government protests, accusing them of "encouraging violence".

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