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Report from Taksim Square demo violence

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[THIS WEEK – FROM ISTANBUL] After a few minutes I realised. It wasn’t hayfever, a stubborn cold, or eye strain. What was making my eyes and nose sting was probably tear gas

I’d been told by my Turkish host for a trip to Istanbul that the protests around the Taksim Square/Gezi Park redevelopment peaked on Saturdays, and I heard stories of bars rendered immobile by clouds of tear gas.

He described himself as a businessman who ‘keeps out of politics’. Nonetheless, a nasty experience of tasting tear gas while photographing one of the early marches left him resentful of the authorities’ increasingly authoritarian and heavy-handed approach.

Similarly, a smooth-talking Turkish banker, and keen Besiktas FC fan, had told me how he and his friends narrowly avoided a brawl, allegedly over football rivalries, with a gang of men spoiling for a fight outside Taksim Square. By their own (later) admission, this gang would have picked a fight over any declared team loyalty; Juventus or Inter Milan, Barcelona or Real Madrid. Patting one of them on the waist, trying to diffuse the situation, our banker felt a holster – they were plain clothes policemen, agents provocateurs.

Protestors form a sit-down line up on Istikal Caddessi, Istanbul, prior to violence breaking out


Protestors form a sit-down line up on Istikal Caddessi, Istanbul, prior to violence breaking out

Last week (1-7 July), it was announced that, the Istanbul Supreme Court had ruled against the development in a hitherto unpublished ruling from 6 June, following the petition from a group including the Chamber of Landscape Architects and the Turkish Union of Engineers and Architects’ Chambers. This decision is not final, however and is expected to be appealed at a higher administrative court.

Prior to Saturday’s march – and attempted re-entry into Gezi Park - Istanbul Governor Huseyin Avni Mutlu had warned that the protest aimed at entering Gezi was illegal and also said the park would reopen on Sunday.

Despite this, it went ahead. And on the Saturday night, the tear gas started to drift its way to our apartment on the fourth floor. A sit down protest on Istikal Cadessi – the pedestrianised street which runs up to Taksim Square – had turned violent.

Later on Istikal, bins were burning; detritus had been pulled onto the street in makeshift barricades. Crowds, some wearing gas masks, others with kerchiefs, sprinted away from the thick mist of tear gas diffusing. One man gave away face masks from a box.

Protestors flee clouds of tear gas on Istikal Caddessi, Istanbul


Protestors flee clouds of tear gas on Istikal Caddessi, Istanbul

Elsewhere, it was business as usual. In daytime, the streets are crammed, the horns of the city’s yellow taxis parping busily as ever, tourists are hustled around the sites of Sultanahmet, businessmen in tailored shirts hurry along the cleaned-up Istikal Cadessi.

For some though, the mood has changed. Asked if anything was different since the demonstrations, our host was clear: ‘We have lost our fear.’

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