Photo by Thorsten Strasas
CNN: What started as a peaceful sit-in over plans to demolish a park in central Istanbul has grown to become the biggest protest movement against Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan since he was elected more than 10 years ago.
What prompted the protests?
Gezi Park sits in Istanbul’s main commercial district and is the last green space in the city center. So, it didn’t go down well with many residents when authorities announced they want to raze the park and put in its place a replica of 19th Century Ottoman barracks — containing a shopping mall.
On Friday, a district court ordered a temporary stop to any construction. Mayor Kadir Topbas emphasized the park demolition was not related to the shopping mall project, but was a part of a wider renovation project of Taksim Square.
But many of the demonstrators say their anger is no longer directed against the proposed government plan. In Istanbul, the crowds have been chanting “Tayyip resign” — referring to Erdogan — and “shoulder to shoulder against fascism.”
Why did the demonstrations turn violent?
At first, the protests involved a handful of angry residents holding sit-ins. But the numbers quickly grew. Riot police moved in, lobbing tear gas and pepper spray and protesters responded by hurling bottles, blocking bulldozers and setting up barricades. Then, outraged by the behavior of security forces, demonstrators began attacking police.
International human rights groups Amnesty International and Greenpeace have denounced what they describe as the excessive use of police force against peaceful protesters.
A spokesman for European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton issued a statement that said Ashton “regrets disproportionate use of force by members of the Turkish police.” Ashton also called for talks between the two sides.
Erdogan conceded Saturday that Turkish security forces had made excessive use of tear gas against demonstrators.
“There have been errors in the actions of the security forces, especially with regard to use of pepper gas. Right now that is being investigated, researched,” he said.
Since Friday, there have been protests in 67 of Turkey’s 81 provinces, according to Turkey’s semi-official Andalou News Agency. There have been reports of confrontations in the capital, Ankara, as well as the port cities of Izmir and Adana.
More than 700 people have been detained since Tuesday, and most have been released, the agency said. Fifty-eight civilians are still hospitalized and 115 security officers have been injured.
Why do the protesters want Erdogan to step down?
The police crackdown on the park demonstrators set off the wider unrest. Now, the scope of the protests shows there is a bigger issue, about freedom of speech and accusations of heavy-handed government, at stake. MORE