Turkish police arrest over 200 after clash with May Day protesters

Published May 2, 2024
Istanbul: Turkish police detain a protester as he and others attempt to march to Taksim Square during a May Day rally, on Wednesday.—AFP
Istanbul: Turkish police detain a protester as he and others attempt to march to Taksim Square during a May Day rally, on Wednesday.—AFP

ISTANBUL: Turkish police on Wednesday fired tear gas and rubber bullets and detained more than 200 protesters after authorities banned May 1 rallies at Istanbul’s historic Taksim Square.

More than 40,000 police were deployed across Istanbul, blocking even small side streets with metal barriers in an attempt to prevent protesters gathering.

Police clashed with demonstrators near city hall in the Sarachane district, firing tear gas and rubber bullets to stop protesters breaching barricades, AFP reporters said.

“210 people were detained in Istanbul after failure to heed our warnings and attempting to walk to the Taksim Square and attack our police officers on May 1 Labour and Solidarity Day,” Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya posted on X, formerly Twitter.

Tall metal barriers were put up around the square, where authorities have banned rallies since 2013, when it was the focus of demonstrations against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government.

“We have demonstrated our will to celebrate May Day at Taksim Square. We have legal grounds,” Arzu Cerkezoglu, secretary general of the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions of Turkiye (DISK), said.

“Taksim is an important symbol for us. Taksim means May Day, Taksim means labour,” she said.

In 2023, Turkiye’s top constitutional court ruled that the closure of Taksim Square for protests was a violation of rights.

The square was a rallying ground for May Day celebrations until 1977, when at least 34 people were killed during demonstrations. Authorities opened it up again in 2010, but it was shut again after the 2013 protests.

In Besiktas district, police detained at least 30 left-wing protesters who were shouting “Taksim cannot be banned”, an AFP journalist reported.

One protester was dragged along the ground by police and his group detained.

Another 30 people were detai­ned in Sisli district.

The MLSA rights group said several journalists were pushed to the ground during the troubles.

‘Taksim belongs to workers’

Main roads across Istanbul were closed to traffic while public transport, including ferries and subway trains, was halted because of the security clampdown. Landmarks such as the Topkapi palace were cordoned off.

On Monday, Yerlikaya said Taksim would be out of bounds for rallies to stop “terrorist organisations” using it for “propaganda”.

Turkiye’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and unions had pressed the government to open the square for labour rallies but Erdogan warned on Tuesday against any provocation.

CHP leader Ozgur Ozel, accompanied by Istanbul’s mayor Ekrem Imamoglu and labour unions, gathered in the Sarachane neighbourhood. “We will keep on fighting until Taksim is free,” Ozel said. “Taksim belongs to the workers.”

Addressing the police, Ozel declared: “These workers are not your enemies.

Published in Dawn, May 2nd, 2024

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