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Turkey Erupts in Rage: Anti-Government Protests Spread to 60 Cities

The unrest in Istanbul was sparked by a government plan to demolish a park in Taksim Square.

Turkish riot police in Istanbul.
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Turkey is seeing its biggest wave of protests against the ruling government in many years. Tens of thousands of people rallied across the country Sunday for a third consecutive day of mass demonstrations. The unrest erupted last week when thousands of people converged at Istanbul’s Taksim Square, a public space reportedly set for demolition. The protests have grown to include grievances against the government on a range of issues, and protesters have managed to remain despite a heavy police crackdown, including tear gas and rubber bullets. The Turkish government says around 1,000 people have been detained at more than 200 protests nationwide. Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has dismissed the uproar as the work of political opponents and "extremists," vowing to proceed with governments plans to remake Taksim Square. "I cannot tell you how empowering this is," says Turkish scholar and activist Nazan Ustundag. "This is a country known for [police] brutality and for the Turkish people’s unquestioned loyalty to the state. So it’s very exciting all these different sections of people [are] standing [up for] the last public space which wasn’t given to private interests."

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show in Turkey, where protests that began last week in the capital have now brought tens of thousands into the streets in cities across the country. The demonstrations started last Monday when about a hundred activists in Istanbul tried to block the demolition of trees in Gezi Park by setting up Occupy-like encampment. They succeeded by sitting in the trees and blocking bulldozers, until early Thursday morning when police fired tear gas into the park and reportedly set their tents on fire around 5:00 a.m. By Friday, the protests had spread to the much larger Taksim Square nearby, one of the last public gathering spaces in the city. The square was already the focus of protests because of plans to tear it down and replace it with a shopping mall. By Friday, tens of thousands were drawn to Taksim Square by word of mouth and reports on social media, only to be met by a massive show of police force, including tear gas and rubber bullets.

Some say demonstrators were also upset over new laws passed last week that place strict new restrictions on alcohol. Among the most controversial new rules is a ban on sales of alcohol within 110 yards of a mosque or a school. This is one of the protesters.

PROTESTER: I think we feel that intervention in all parts of our lives. This is just the tipping point. I think that’s why.

AMY GOODMAN: Many people were injured as police tried to disperse the week-long protest. One widely shared photo showed an officer in Taksim Square wearing a face mask and directly spraying tear gas or pepper spray into the face of an unarmed young woman. Journalists were also reportedly targeted. Photos posted on Twitter show well-known Turkish investigative reporter Ahmet Şik bleeding after he was hit in the head with a police tear-gas canister. Still, protests continued throughout the weekend. On Saturday, the Turkish interior minister, Muammer Güler, said police had detained almost a thousand people at demonstrations across the country

MUAMMER GÜLER: [translated] There have been 939 detentions in various cities. Some of them have already been released, and some of them are arrested pending trial. During these protests, 26 police officers and 53 civilians were wounded. Nineteen of them are from Istanbul. One of the wounded is in critical condition.

AMY GOODMAN: The U.S. ambassador to Turkey released a statement on the protests, saying, quote, "I wish a speedy recovery to all those injured; get well soon. But if you are asking me about U.S. foreign policy, as you know, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and the right to have peaceful protests are fundamentals of a democracy. I am not going to say anything further," he said.

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