Turkey again closes Istanbul park

AP News
Posted: Jul 08, 2013 1:12 PM
Turkey again closes Istanbul park

ISTANBUL (AP) — An Istanbul park that was at the center of weeks of anti-government demonstrations opened for a few hours Monday, but Turkish authorities quickly closed it and fired a water cannon at protesters heading to the area for a planned rally.

The attack occurred on a main pedestrian road leading to Istanbul's landmark Taksim Square and adjacent Gezi Park.

On Monday afternoon, Gov. Huseyin Avni Mutlu declared Gezi Park reopened to the public, but warned he would not allow it to become a point for more demonstrations. About three hours later, police asked the public to leave the park and closed it.

An Associated Press journalist at the scene said police used shields to push some laggards out of the park, fired tear gas at a few protesters who struck a police shield, and detained a dozen people. The Radikal newspaper said those rounded up were members of a group opposed to Taksim's redevelopment who had called Monday's protest at Gezi.

No casualties were immediately reported.

Mutlu said on his Twitter account that the park was shut down again because there were "many calls to turn Gezi Park into an area of unlawful demonstrations and occupation."

Gezi had been cordoned off since June 15, when police forcibly evacuated thousands of environmentalists who occupied it amid widespread protests against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government.

The park is one of a few green areas in the center of Istanbul. Government plans to redevelop Taksim and build a replica Ottoman-era military barracks at Gezi sparked the protests. But they quickly turned into an outpouring of discontent with Erdogan's government.

Opponents say Erdogan, who came to power a decade ago, has become increasingly authoritarian — a charge the prime minister rejects and points to the 50 percent support his party received at elections in 2011.

The protests have largely tapered off since June.

On Saturday, however, police used tear gas to break up a few thousand demonstrators planning to break through police cordons to enter Gezi.

Last month an Istanbul court ruled against the redevelopment plans, but the decision is not final and is expected to be appealed at a higher administrative court.

At least four people — three protesters and a police officer — were killed in the widespread protests in June.

Erdogan has dismissed the protests by the mainly middle class, urban and secular-oriented Turks as a foreign-led conspiracy against his government and has held counter rallies to shore up support among his more conservative base.