Turkey Protests Rage On: Nearly 1,000 Arrested

Turkey Protests Rage On: Nearly 1,000 Arrested

Authorities in Turkey have arrested almost a 1,000 people across the country in the fiercest anti-government demonstrations the nation has seen for years.

Police withdrew from a main Istanbul square to allow in tens of thousands of protesters, as clashes spread to the capital Ankara and other towns and cities.

Officers removed barricades - some of which had been set alight - in a bid to calm tensions after days of clashes with demonstrators who hurled objects including fireworks at them.

Riot police backed by armoured vehicles and helicopters in Istanbul had for much of Saturday fought running battles with thousands of people who turned out to protect a park in the city's central Taksim Square.

Police, who have been accused of using disproportionate force to quash the demonstrations, attempted to disperse crowds with water cannon and tear gas.

What started as a peaceful environmental protest over plans to redevelop the Gezi Parka has turned into a national demonstration against the Islamist-rooted government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan that is seen by many as authoritarian.

In a surprise move last week, the government quickly passed legislation curbing the sale and advertising of alcoholic drinks, alarming secularists. Many felt insulted when he defended the legislation by calling people who drink "alcoholics."

Crowds of protesters chanting "shoulder to shoulder against fascism" and "government resign" marched on Taksim Square, littered with broken glass, rocks and an overturned vehicle.

A defiant Mr Erdogan said the redevelopment would go ahead despite the opposition and vowed to bring the unrest under control.

"Police were there yesterday, they'll be on duty today and also tomorrow because Taksim Square cannot be an area where extremists are running wild," he said in televised remarks.

"If this is about holding meetings, if this is a social movement, where they gather 20, I will get up and gather 200,000 people. Where they gather 100,000, I will bring together one million from my party.

"Every four years we hold elections and this nation makes its choice. Those who have a problem with government policies can express their opinions within the framework of law and democracy."

Support rallies have gathered in Ankara, Izmir, Kocaeli and Adana and their numbers are increasing.

Interior Minister Muammer Guler said 939 arrests had been made in more than 90 separate demonstrations.

As in Istanbul, water cannon and tear gas were also used to stop protesters from reaching the parliament building in the capital, Ankara.

First pictures, then videos of brutal police attacks on unarmed protesters in Istanbul caused the protests to spread to other towns and cities.

Earlier in the week on Thursday morning, riot police were sent to disperse the sleeping protesters camping in the park. Videos of masked police burning down tents and firing tear gas at unarmed people shocked the public.

The protesters rallied once more on Thursday night and the situation got worse on Friday morning.

The police raid was more brutal than the previous day and people who were trying to escape police got crushed under a wall they were trying to climb.

The videos spread quickly through social networks while news channels and mainstream media failed to report on what was starting to become a social resistance movement.

Throughout Friday, protesters tried re-entering the park that had been sealed off by police barricades.

People from all walks of life rallied around this seemingly unimportant protest. University students, actors, journalists, artists, young or old, conservative or liberal, were all united in the movement.

Social media has become the main source of information and people are now afraid the government will shut down the internet.

Twitter has become the eyes and ears of the Gezi movement. Protesters relay crucial information about police barricades, open roads, injury status or emergency situations.

Police closed access to ambulances on Friday and protesters who were injured asked for medical help via Twitter or Facebook.

A group of medical students and doctors volunteered and their names and numbers were quickly broadcast on Twitter, urging protesters to call them if anyone was seriously injured.

Lawyers have volunteered their services to those who have been arrested.

When police started using jammers to stop communication in Taksim, shops, cafes and businesses shared their wifi passwords on Twitter to help everyone share their pictures and videos.

The UK Foreign Office called for restraint and urged the government not to use tear gas "indiscriminately".

"We encourage the Turkish authorities to respect the right to peaceful protest and freedom of assembly, which are fundamental human rights in any democratic society," a spokesman said in a statement.

It also urged British travellers to avoid the protests.

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