'Not About Trees Anymore' as Turkey Protests Intensify

What started as a bid to save public land has escalated as youth face riot police with calls of revolution

What began as a protest to protect a public park in Istanbul from commercial development has escalated dramatically in a week's time with violent clashes between demonstrators and police on Friday leading to an even larger escalation on Saturday as more than ten thousand Turkish citizens faced down security forces in a call for deeper social change.

On Saturday, what started in Gezi Park--where developers backed by the government of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) hoped to build a shopping mall--has now spread to other parts of Instanbul.

As this video shows, the streets have become intense as protesters clash with police:

And the Hurriyet Daily News reports:

The Turkish police's crackdown targeting the demonstrators protesting the demolition of Taksim Gezi Park continued on June 1, as clashes broke out in Istanbul's symbolic Istiklal Avenue and the Besiktas district on the European side of the city.

Security forces used tear gas and water cannons this morning to quell protesters who had gathered on Istiklal Avenue, as well as its sidestreets. When the police fired the water and gas, protesters tried to escape from the narrow streets leading to the Cihangir neighborhood.

Between 4,000 and 5,000 protesters gathered again after the police's first intervention. However police fired once again, entering the pedestrian street with a water cannon riot vehicle. Some protesters made barricades with trees and bins about 100 meters from Saint Anthony's Church, near Galatasaray Square. Around an hour later the police destroyed the barricade and protesters escaped into sidestreets.

Despite the repeated police interventions, the numbers gathered at the protests only increased. Protesters chanted slogans against the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, calling on the government to resign.

"The protesters are saying that this is not about trees anymore," said Al Jazeera's Rawya Rageh, reporting from Istanbul.

On Friday, in fact, an administrative court in Istanbul handed the #OccupyGezi protesters at least a temporary victory by putting a "stay" on the construction permit of the new development.

Despite that and following the aggressive use of force on Friday, including the detention of nearly 60 demonstrators on Friday, the protest movement seemed only to spread overnight.

As part of their campaign, the Gezi protest organizers released this poster calling for others to join them:

And, with dramatic photos of blood-soaked protesters at the hands of Turkish security forces via social media sites like Tumblr and Twitter, the support for those who promised to "guard the trees" has exploded.

Though he admitted police may have been overzealous in some of the use of tear gas, Ergodan was defiant on Saturday, saying that his supporters far outnumbered the youthful elements of the protests and that his favored development project would ultimately move forward.

As the Associated Press reports:

Erdogan on Saturday called on demonstrators to end anti-government protests now into a second day, but he remained defiant, insisting police would break down protests at a main Istanbul square and indicating that the government would press ahead with the redevelopment plans that sparked the demonstrations.

In a televised speech, Erdogan said police may have used tear gas excessively while confronting protesters and said this would be investigated. But he said the protesters did not represent the majority and accused them of raising tensions.

Police let off more tear gas and pressurized water against waves of protesters trying to reach a main square in Istanbul or the Parliament building in the capital, Ankara, early on Saturday, but appeared to be allowing crowds to approach the heavily guarded square in the afternoon.


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