Istiklal erupts in clashes as protesters move to retake Gezi

An updated (and more coherent) version of this article has been published on Your Middle East. You can read it here.

map-taksimclashes-july6

Above: A map showing the sites of clashes as of midnight, June 6. See the full map here.

All of Istanbul’s central Beyoglu district is in chaos again, after protesters attempting to march on Taksim Square were met with heavy police intervention.

If there is a new policy against indiscriminate tear gassing, it certainly isn’t in effect. Police wage minor street battles with protesters in side streets, firing countless rounds of tear gas as hardcore demonstrators respond with bottles and rocks.

Today’s demonstrations were an attempt by Taksim Platform, the organization to emerge from last month’s Gezi Park protests, to push police out of the park, which was the centre of anti-government protests for over 20 days.

The park remains occupied by police more than a month after a court decision rejecting government proposals to construct a shopping mall and historic barracks over one of Istanbul’s last green spaces.

A brutal police clearance that saw hundreds injured and medical staff, children, and elderly gassed and detained ended an Occupy-style protest in the park. Sympathy protests against the increasingly authoritarian regime of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) continue across the country, often being met with the same indiscriminate police violence.

Protesters attempting to erect barricades on Istiklal Avenue, the central shopping avenue of the Old City, have been beaten back by blasts of water from TOMA crowd control tanks and tear gas.

The Interior Minister has called the interventions “normal”, but Istiklal, normally the scene of wild parties and late-night shopping on Saturday nights, is filled with fearful bystanders jumping at the sound of exploding tear canisters.

From Taksim Square, which is completely cut off from the public by riot police, to Galatasary Tower, at the end of Istiklal Avenue, is being patrolled by small groups of police firing gas into side streets.

The operation, despite pushing protesters further and further off of the main avenue, will eventually have to end in indiscriminate police violence if it is to have any effect. Istanbul’s Beyoglu neighbourhood is a network of densely packed winding streets which provide perfect escape routes for protesters.

Businesses and local residents, ostensibly with their doors and windows shuttered, are sheltering protesters fleeing gas. The Istanbul Bar Association’s Beyoglu office is providing medical aid, and countless heavy iron gates from Ottoman days guard escapees from the riot tanks that race down Istiklal, firing gas down the avenue.

Next to the Pera Muzesi, where a small covered souk connects Istaklal Avenue to the adjacent Tarlabasi road, a fierce battle is being waged between stone throwers and police, filling the mall with clouds of gas.

Protesters driven from the side streets by gas are for the moment congregating near the Marmara Hotel, though there is constant movement to and from Istiklal.

Traffic continues to move on many of Istiklal’s non-pedestrianized side streets, and cars and cabs are being caught up in clouds of gas.

Two streets over from one of upper Istiklal’s most fierce battles, bars overflow with patrons enjoying beer on a street just recently subjected to the attentions of a TOMA tank.

Journalists with press cards were kettled behind riot police in Taksim Square, while unaccredited photographers roamed Istiklal, dodging tear gas canisters as they kicked up sparks on Istiklal’s cobbles.

Frightening video has emerged of indiscriminate machete attacks on fleeing bystanders and protesters earlier in the day. They have allegedly been detained by police.

Today was supposed to be a quiet night of jazz in Beyoglu, as the Istanbul Jazz Festival staged its “festival within a festival”, the Tunel Concerts. I was trying to get to Sisane, near Galatasaray Tunel, when the closure of Taksim Square’s metro station told me something was up.

Protesters had warned they would occupy the park by Sunday, when the interior minister said it would be reopened to the public, regardless of the police presence.

And of course I forgot my camera…

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