Protesters Flood Into Istanbul Square

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Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
June 1 2013 5:40 PM

Protesters Flood Into Istanbul Square After Police Withdraw Following Violent Crackdown

Thousands of people flooded into a central square in Istanbul after police began withdrawing Saturday following a brutal crackdown on demonstrations that have now become huge protests against the ruling regime. The police removed barriers at Taksim Square Saturday in what seemed like an evident effort to ease tensions following two-days of anti-government protests, reports Turkey’s Today’s Zaman. Yet there was violence until the very end, as police fired tear gas into the crowds as some protesters threw objects at the withdrawing forces.

The Associated Press states what many in the West are probably thinking: This looks a lot like another chapter in the Arab Spring. (Yes, we know the term is far from perfect.) And indeed, it has lots of the hallmarks, mainly in that what was a small protest about a narrow issue grew into huge anti-government demonstrations as a response to the government’s reaction. So, what exactly happened here? The Guardian has a good, basic explanation:

The original protest was aimed at saving a city centre park in Istanbul from shopping centre developers who had been backed by the government. But it rapidly snowballed into a national display of anger at the perceived arrogance of the country's rulers.
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In a bid to calm tensions, the government ordered forces to withdraw from the square after they had spent most of the morning firing tear gas and water cannons to try to push back protesters that say development plans would destroy one of the few remaining green spaces in the city, reports the Hurriyet Daily News. The interior minister said that 939 people were arrested across the country, according to Reuters. Hundreds were injured, and four people permanently lost their eyesight in the protests, according to the AP.

Tensions are likely to continue as protesters have reportedly built barricades to prevent police from returning. And while the government did offer some concessions to the demonstrators it has made it clear it won’t back down. Even as he acknowledged that police used excessive force, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said he would push ahead with the development plans that sparked the protests in the first place, notes Today’s Zaman.

“To call this a ‘Turkish Spring’ would be over-dramatizing it,” concludes Murat Yetkin in the Hurriyet Daily News. “It could be, if there were opposition forces in Turkey that could move in to stop the one man show of a mighty power holder. But it can easily be said that the Taksim brinkmanship marked a turning point in the almighty image of Erdogan.”

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today's Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.

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