ISTANBUL—A four-day sit-in protest to prevent the construction of a shopping mall in Gezi Park, part of Taksim Square in central Istanbul, erupted into violence between police and protesters Friday.
Turkish police used tear gas and a water canon to break up crowds who had gathered to prevent the trees in the park from being removed. Some of the protesters, who had set up tents, were removed and the park sealed off.
The police intervention sparked larger protests during the course of the day, after people joined to protest the government. There were reports of protesters being injured and arrested. Police could be seen chasing protesters away from the square.
“It is truly unbelievable,” said one of the protesters who wished to remain anonymous. “We are in a very difficult situation,” she said after being hit with tear gas.
Journalist Cuneyt Ozdemir wrote on his twitter account “It has turned Istanbul into complete chaos. Thousands of protestors fight against Turkish police in all streets leading to Taksim square.”
Istanbul Gov. Huseyin Avni Mutlu said at a press conference, “We know these groups, we know their objectives. It has nothing to do with environmentalism.” He didn’t elaborate on who he believed was responsible for the chaos.
Meanwhile, Istanbul Mayor Kadir Topbas claimed that the construction work was not related to the shopping mall but merely transfer of trees in the area in order to enlarge the pedestrian walk.”
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Many used social media to voice anger against local media for ignoring or downplaying the force used by police and called on social media users to draw the attention of international media instead.
A Starbucks outlet located on Taksim Square was also criticized on social media for closing its gates to protesters. On the other hand, five star hotel Divan located near the park had opened its doors to demonstrators who tried to escape from gas bombs.
Politicians, artists, journalists, as well as university students, academicians, and even soccer team fans have now joined the protests.
Popular Turkish singer Sezen Aksu asked officials to act with wisdom and mercy on her website. She blamed the government for using violence against its citizens instead of seeking a solution through consensus and listening.
Cem Boyner a businessman and owner of well-known department stores in Turkey posted a statement saying he won’t open a shop in the mall that is at the center of the protest.
Protesters have been organizing through social media and started gathering on May 27 to resist the government backed renovation project that involved a shopping mall. The shopping mall will be designed as a replica of Ottoman Artillery Barracks.
According to the latest report, an administrative court ruled for the suspension of the Artillery Barracks project.
Upon hearing the news on suspension of mall project one protester said, “So what? The snowball has turned into an avalanche. This was the last straw.”
According to latest media reports protests have also spread to the city of Izmir, located around 350 miles from Istanbul.