Police Fire Tear Gas On Protesters In Turkey

Turkish riot police cracked down on ongoing anti-government protests in Istanbul's iconic Taksim Square on Tuesday.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

I'm Melissa Block and we begin this hour with the unrest in Turkey. Police clashed today with anti-government protesters in Istanbul's Taksim Square. Demonstrations have gone on for 12 days now, becoming a crisis in a country seen as a model of democracy in the Muslim world. And today, the government moved to clear the square.

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CORNISH: Police fired tear gas and water cannons into the crowd and some protesters fought back with rocks and Molotov cocktails. Joining us now from Istanbul is NPR's Peter Kenyon. And Peter, start by telling us where you are and what's happening now.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: I'm at a corner of Taksim Square and I'm seeing lines of police, armored vehicles, ambulances, water cannons. The ambulances are trying to evacuate wounded. There are tear gas canisters being fired periodically into the Taksim Square area. This has been going on sporadically all day. This latest effort seems to be one of the more serious attempts to clear out the square.

BLOCK: And how are the protesters responding to this?

KENYON: Most of the protesters are responding as most people do when tear gas strikes. They get out of there. There are a few, I guess you'd say, hardcore people who want to stay. They were throwing rocks. Earlier in the day, they were throwing Molotov cocktails. Now, they're throwing pieces of wood, projectiles, metal barriers, anything they can get their hands on in a rather futile effort to repel the police presence.

The police are, of course, responding with the water cannon and the tear gas from a distance where they're relatively safe.

BLOCK: Now, is there any sense that there is any particular incident that led to today's crackdown?

KENYON: Not in the sense of people in Taksim doing something different. But the Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan did give a televised speech in which he said this episode is over, we have no more tolerance. And that was widely seen as a signal that the clearing out process would begin. It began earlier in the day with the mayor of Istanbul saying, don't worry, we're not going into Gezi Park, the small park in one part of the Taksim Square that is the subject of the sit in that started on May 31st.

But the patience appears to be over on the part of the government. It's not clear that there's been a complete sweep-out yet of Gezi Park, but the protesters there are expecting it.

BLOCK: Now, you talked about the demonstrations that began on May 31st about this redevelopment of the park in Taksim Square. Can you give us more of a sense of the significance and the geography we're talking about here?

KENYON: Well, Gezi Park is the last green space in this downtown Taksim Square area, which is the heart of modern Istanbul. And so, when this latest development plan to recreate an Ottoman barracks that was initially called a shopping mall - may now turn out to be a museum, we're not sure yet - it outraged a lot of people. And then when the police cracked down on those initial peaceful environmental sit-in protesters, that galvanized a whole range of protesters with a whole range of grievances against the prime minister.

And by three or four days after that, we saw huge protests here, a big police crackdown. It subsided for several days and now it's started again.

BLOCK: Now, the prime minister had planned a meeting with protest leaders tomorrow to offer what was said to be some kind of olive branch, but how does this crackdown today affect the possibility of reaching a resolution?

KENYON: I'd say it makes it very, very hard. It wasn't clear that it was going to lead anywhere in any event. The people who were selected were not necessarily representative, according to other activists, and the prime minister never seemed to take them especially seriously. It was mainly an attempt to distinguish the environmental anti-development crowd from the general anti-Erdogan crowd, the opposition people who think he's become too autocratic and doesn't listen to the 50 percent of the people who didn't vote for him.

So that was, I think, what was behind the meeting. Now if it happens at all, I think the hopes for progress are very small.

BLOCK: That's NPR's Peter Kenyon at Taksim Square in Istanbul. Thank you, Peter.

KENYON: You're welcome, Audie.

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