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There are 40,000 people crossing from Asia to Europe on a bridge across the Bosphorus. According to tweets they are joining protesters in Istanbul. These protesters occupied Gezi park for days, battling police in riot gear. Many were injured and there are reports of people having been killed.

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What's going on?

Update: Incredible set of photos here.  Example:

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Another amazing set of photos via kimoconner:

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According to the Guardian

Turkey has been engulfed by a series of protests across several cities after riot police turned Istanbul's busiest city centre hub into a battleground, deploying tear gas and water cannon against thousands of peaceful demonstrators...

Following several days of dawn police raids on the protesters seeking to occupy Gezi park on Taksim Square in Istanbul city centre, the clashes escalated violently, leaving more than 100 people injured, several of them seriously.

Police went on the rampage against protesters who had been sitting reading books and singing songs.

According to a BBC analyst:
People are angry and frustrated at the government's decision to build a shopping centre at the expense of one of Istanbul's most famous parks. But what started as a protest against the uprooting of trees is turning into a wider platform for expressing anger against government policies.

Environmentalists have been joined by gay and lesbian groups, as well as socialists, union workers, members of opposition parties from across the political landscape and even so-called "anti-capitalist Muslims". The excessive use of force by the riot police and the insistence of the government to pursue their plans for the park have escalated tensions.

Taksim Square has political significance for the anti-government protests. As part of the reconstruction plans, the square was banned as a venue for this year's May Day rally and any kind of demonstrations in the future; but now the government's heavy handed approach risks turning the square into a focal point for protests against its policies.

In a stunning example of hypocrisy the US expressed its "concern" about the events of the last few days:

"We believe that Turkey's long-term stability, security and prosperity is best guaranteed by upholding the fundamental freedoms of expression, assembly and association, which is what it seems these individuals were doing,'' state department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

"These freedoms are crucial to any healthy democracy."

I don't have to wonder what the folks who tried to hold Zuccotti Park, Oscar Grant Plaza, Dilworth Plaza, Bradley Manning Plaza and the park outside of City Hall in Los Angeles would have to say about these freedoms being crucial to a healthy democracy.  Or was Jen Psaki merely observing how unhealthy democracy here in the Unites States has become?

One thing is different in Turkey than in the US:

In a sign of the tension, amateur video footage showed Turkish military personnel refusing to help the riot police, as well as handing out gas masks to demonstrators. There were also reports that some of the police had switched sides and joined the protests.

Fri May 31, 2013 at 10:42 PM PT: Another summary of events and circumstances:

On the night of May 27, bulldozers and backhoes rolled into Gezi Park, a tiny island of trees and grass at the center of Taksim Square in Istanbul, Turkey, and started ripping it apart. This was part of a government project to “pedestrianize” the historic square—what that meant in this case, according to many blogs, was turning one of the last open green spaces in the city into a shopping mall. No community organizations or local people were asked what they thought about the plans for the park, devised by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), which included rebuilding historical barracks that were demolished in the 1940s and adding sidewalks to make the square more friendly to pedestrians.

Four days later, after nonviolent protesters occupied the park and survived attacks by the police that included tear gas and water cannons, they've won at least a temporary victory thanks to a court decision. In fact, Istanbul's mayor, Kadir Topbaş, just announced that there was never any plan to build a mall. It's an amazing 11th-hour turnaround, but it didn't happen without a battle.

Protesters began gathering in the park as early as Monday, May 27, and word spread through social media as more pro-park, anti-government Turks showed up to sit in front of the bulldozers. By Wednesday, the police were involved, and they responded to the nonviolent protests with aggressive tactics—what really got everyone’s attention was a photo from Reuters showing a young, apparently peaceful environmentalist in a red dress getting pepper-sprayed by a gas-masked cop. That image became a symbol of the “occupation” of Gezi Park, as well as the cops’ terrorization of the protesters.

6:57 AM PT: NPR report this morning:

What started as a small protest against the redevelopment of a park in Istanbul, Turkey, has spread to other cities and turned into one of the largest government protests in recent memory. While numbers are hard to come by, Al Jazeera reports that about 10,000 people gathered in Ankara chanting "government resign" and "unite against fascism."

NPR's Peter Kenyon reports from Istanbul that the government is refusing to halt the development project that sparked the demonstrations. Peter sent this report to our Newscast unit:

"As International criticism mounts over the aggressive police tactics used on peaceful demonstrators in Istanbul, prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan says the protesters should go home.

"'The Taksim project will go ahead,' Erdogan said. 'If you bring 100,000, I'll bring out a million.'

7:00 AM PT: Recent tweet:


7:02 AM PT: Wow:

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7:08 AM PT: Call to action by Occupy Wall Street, supporters today in Zuccotti Park:

To The Member of the Press, International Human Rights Organizations, and the People of New York City,

We are artists, students, intellectuals and citizens of New York City. Together with supporters of Occupy Wall Street, we are here in Zuccotti Park to show solidarity with our friends and brothers and sisters who are occupying Gezi Parki in Istanbul. This is a peaceful event. Our goal is to attract public attention to the protests in Istanbul Gezi Parki and the consequent police brutality of the Erdogan/AKP government!

Since Monday, May 27th, citizens of Istanbul from all backgrounds have been staging a peaceful resistance in Gezi Park, the city's largest public park, protecting it and its trees from a large gentrification project to transform a public park into a shopping center. The demolition of the park should be understood as another incident of the government’s ongoing appropriation and privatization of public resources.

Since the peaceful occupation started three days ago, The Turkish police have repeatedly intervened, with each intervention more violent than the last. The riot police set fire to the occupier’s tents, and used tear gas relentlessly, causing serious injuries.

Finally on May 31st, the police attacks included rubber bullets, in addition to physically beating and ultimately killing of at least one protester.

Today, hundreds of thousands of people in Istanbul are resisting the AKP government’s neoliberal policies and the brutal attacks on the protestors continue.

This is not the first time protests have been met with state sanctions violence. Most recently, the Turkish police used unreasonable force to disperse May Day protestors again attacking a group of peaceful demonstrators in Istanbul’s Taksim Square. The Erdogan government’s excessive force and the use of tear gas and rubber bullets against peaceful protestors is unacceptable, it breaches international human rights criteria and must be stopped.

7:12 AM PT: Also protest today in San Francisco

7:41 AM PT:


8:26 AM PT: CNN latest report:

Istanbul, Turkey (CNN) -- After battling for nearly 36 hours with tear gas, water cannons and pepper spray, Turkish police retreated from Istanbul's central Taksim Square on Saturday afternoon, allowing tens of thousands of demonstrators to pour into the space.

A peaceful sit-in on Friday against government plans to demolish a park was met with a police crackdown, igniting the biggest anti-government riots this city has seen in a decade...

On Saturday, Turkey's fiery prime minister broke his silence about the protests, vowing not to back down to the demonstrators.

"The police where there yesterday, they are there today, and they will be there tomorrow. Taksim Square cannot be allowed to be a place where marginal groups can freely roam," Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a speech transmitted live on Turkish television channels.

But Erdogan also conceded that Turkish security forces had made excessive use of tear gas against demonstrators.
9:06 AM PT:

9:41 AM PT: Analysis:

Taking a page out of the playbook of dictators from Damascus to Algiers, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has thus far refused any serious engagement with the thousands protesting the destruction of Gezi Park in Istanbul. His supporters have attempted to paint the protests—currently in their fifth day, and gathering momentum—as the work of fringe anarchists, atheists, foreign instigators, and government detractors. They have cited ‘ulterior motives’ and alluded to secularist conspirators trying to unseat the ruling, religiously inspired AKP (Justice and Development Party). Turkish television has been slow to provide coverage of the violence that has enveloped the park and the adjacent Taksim Square, the solidarity protests from Los Angeles to Sydney, or the thousands who have walked across the Bosphorus Bridge to aid those who were being forcefully removed—with teargas, water cannons, fists and batons—from downtown Istanbul. There are reports of Internet outages in areas around Taksim. Public transportation has been halted. Taksim Square is becoming the Tahrir of Turkey. It might just be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Even if it is not, the government’s reaction will not soon be forgotten...

As Istanbul awakens to what some have described as the “Turkish Spring,” protesters in Gezi Park and elsewhere are resisting not only the brutality of the police, but also attempts to hijack their acts of resistance. Denouncing those calling for army intervention on behalf of the people and refusing to be baited by accusations of religious bigotry and intolerance, the protesters are adamant that theirs is the cause of democracy. For months now, Erdoğan has responded to protests over government decisions with the adage, “I have made my decision.” Today, protesters in Gezi Park, together with the thousands of others who have previously opposed the “rehabilitation” of public spaces into shopping malls, the razing of forests to create roads and bridges, or the countless other decisions taken without consultations and in disregard for democratic processes, are voicing their opposition to a democracy without democracy. They have gathered under banners proclaiming, “Everywhere is Takism, Resistance Everywhere.” The state has reacted with a show of force unbecoming of even the weakest of democracies.

Entire essay

Originally posted to jpmassar on Fri May 31, 2013 at 10:20 PM PDT.

Also republished by Occupy Wall Street, ClassWarfare Newsletter: WallStreet VS Working Class Global Occupy movement, DFH Local No 420, and More and Better Democracies.

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