Saturday, June 15, 2013

 

Riot police clear protesters out of Istanbul park

Demonstrators were cleared out of an Istanbul square Saturday where they had been protesting the country's leader for the last two weeks.







 Police clear Istanbul park: Turkish riot policeman in Taksim Square in Istanbul, Saturday, June 15


ISTANBUL — Riot police fired water cannons and tear gas as they drove protesters out of Istanbul's Taksim Square and neighboring Gezi Park on Saturday, an intervention that came shortly after the prime minister warned that security forces "know how to clear" the area.

Within a half-hour, the sweep by white-helmeted riot police had emptied the park, leaving a series of colorful, abandoned tents behind. Bulldozers moved in afterward, scooping up debris as crews of workmen in hard hats and fluorescent yellow vests tore down the tents. Protesters put up little physical resistance, even as plain-clothes police shoved many of them to drive them from the park.

Turkish protests continue despite PM concessionFor over two weeks, protesters had defied Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's warnings to vacate the area. A brutal police intervention on May 31 against those protesting plans to redevelop the square and the park had sparked the biggest anti-government protests in Turkey in decades and dented Erdogan's international reputation.

White smoke billowed skyward as a phalanx of white-helmeted riot police marched inside the park on Saturday. They tore down protesters' banners, toppled a communal food stall, and sprayed tear gas over the tents — urging those inside to pull out.
According to NTV television, before entering the park police shouted to the protesters: "This is an illegal act, this is our last warning to you — Evacuate."

Taksim memorial: People light candlesAP Photo: Vadim Ghirda. People light candles for the victims of the protests at Taksim Square in Istanbul early Saturday, June 15, 2013.


In a show of power before thousands of flag-waving party faithful, Erdogan had earlier threatened protesters in a boisterous speech in Sincan, a suburb of the capital Ankara, that is a stronghold of his Justice and Development Party.

Erdogan warned protesters to cheers from the crowd: "I say this very clearly: either Taksim Square is cleared, or if it isn't cleared then the security forces of this country will know how to clear it."

The protests that were sparked after the violence police action on May 31 sparked a much broader expression of discontent about Erdogan's government, and what many say is his increasingly authoritarian decision-making.

The anger has been fanned because riot police have at times used tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets to disperse mostly peaceful protesters. Five people, including a police officer, have died and thousands of people have been injured, denting Erdogan's international reputation.

Erdogan, who was elected with 50 percent of the vote for his third term in 2011, vehemently rejects the accusations by protesters and points to his strong support base.

A second pro-government rally is planned for Sunday in Istanbul, though Erdogan has previously said that the rallies were not designed as "an alternative" to the demonstrations at Gezi Park, but part of early campaigning for local elections next March.

On Saturday, Erdogan lashed out at what he called the "plot" behind the biggest street protests in his 10-year tenure.

"Over the last 17 days, I know that in all corners of Turkey, millions and billions have prayed for us," Erdogan said, as he moved about the stage.

 "You saw the plot that was being carried out, the trap being set." He said his supporters represented the "silent masses."

"You are here, and you are spoiling the treacherous plot, the treacherous attack!" he said, insisting unspecified groups both inside and outside Turkey had conspired to mount the protests centered on Istanbul — and that he had the documents to prove it.

The crowd chanted in response: "Stand straight, don't bow, the people are with you!"

In his speech, he focused on some protesters who have clashed with polices — at time by throwing stones and firebombs.

"There is no breaking and burning here, we are people of love," Erdogan said. "If people want to see the real Turkey, they should come here to Sincan."

Erdogan already has offered to defer to a court ruling on the legality of the government's contested park redevelopment plan, and floated the possibility of a referendum on it. But concessions over the park seemed not to be enough,

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