Police Clear Protesters In Istanbul Park
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
The political standoff in Turkey is intensifying. Riot police there are firing teargas to prevent anti-government protesters from massing in Istanbul's Taksim Square. There were clashes with demonstrators through much of last night. Security forces sealed off the square and the adjacent Gezi Park, parts of the city that have been the focus of the protests over the last 19 days. Now, authorities say the park is off-limits to the public but many protestors say the crackdown has only strengthened their determination to return. NPR's Peter Kenyon reports from Istanbul.
PETER KENYON, BYLINE: It was a confident Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan who took the stage at a huge party rally in Ankara Saturday. He had offered an olive branch to protest organizers, pledging to wait for a court ruling and a referendum before developing Gezi Park. When the diverse and essentially leaderless group of protesters rejected the offer, Erdogan made it clear that he was done with reaching out.
PRIME MINISTER RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN: (Foreign language spoken)
KENYON: Taksim Square must be emptied. If it is emptied, OK, said Erdogan, adding that if it is not emptied, the security forces will know how to empty it. If the demonstrators dancing and debating Turkish politics in the park thought they had until Sunday to leave, that question was quickly answered.
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KENYON: Large numbers of riot police, backed by teargas and water cannons, swept into the park with unexpected speed, catching the protesters unaware and sending them scrambling toward a hotel where doctors have been treating the wounded from earlier clashes. One protester, Ege, stopped to catch her breath, still feeling the effects of the gas.
EGE: I heard the bangs, everyone run from. I smelled it. It was teargas, and I joined the running-awayers. It was so crowded, we couldn't even run, we couldn't even walk.
KENYON: Another protester, Marti Bukozda, voiced a common reaction, saying if Erdogan thought this show of force would end things, he hasn't been paying attention for the past two and a half weeks.
MARTI BUKOZDA: Exactly. That's what I was telling to all the other people: we're going to come back. Since the beginning we did. I mean, they kicked us out I don't even remember how many times. They keep on kicking us out, we keep on coming back and just building our lives back.
KENYON: Overnight, police deployed in several neighborhoods, repulsing attempts by new waves of people to join the demonstration. Turkey's EU minister urged all citizens to return home, and warned that the state will consider anyone remaining in Gezi Park, quote, "a member of a terror organization," a designation that carries severe penalties under Turkey's sweeping anti-terror laws. But for many here, the question now is how the government will keep the park clear of protesters without turning the heart of modern Istanbul into a closed security zone. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Istanbul.
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