ANKARA: Turkish police on Sunday fired tear gas and water cannon at hundreds of protesters in Ankara a day after violent clashes on the one-year anniversary of the country’s largest anti-government demonstrations in decades.
Police stepped in to disperse around 500 people from Ankara’s downtown Kizilay Square who wanted to stage a demonstration at the site where a 26-year-old protester was shot and killed by police the same day last year, an AFP photographer said. Ethem Sarisuluk was one of at least eight people killed in clashes when police violently cracked down on anti-government protests that swept the country. “Ethem’s murderer is the AKP police,” protesters shouted in Ankara, referring to the ruling Justice and Development Party. “This is only the beginning. We will keep on fighting”.
The Sarisuluk family laid flowers at the site where Ethem was killed. Sunday’s protests came a day after violent clashes between police and protesters in Istanbul and Ankara. Police on Saturday fired tear gas and water cannon at people clustered on side streets who had defied a government ban on demonstrations on the iconic Taksim Square — the epicentre of last year’s turmoil. Some 25,000 police officers were deployed in Istanbul alone, as well as dozens of armoured vehicles and water cannon trucks, as police helicopters hovered above.
In Ankara, police also clashed with protesters hurling fireworks and responded with water cannon and tear gas. In several neighbourhoods, people whistled and banged pots and pans hanging from their balconies — reminiscent of last year’s protests. Political tensions stemming from last year’s revolt — which had mushroomed from a peaceful protest to save an Istanbul park — continue to simmer despite a decisive ruling party victory in March 30 local elections that has bolstered Erdogan’s ambitions to stand for president in August.
Minor clashes ocurred in several cities overnight, but most protests died down after activist group Taksim Solidarity announced late Saturday that the demonstrations were over. Scores of protesters were detained according to rights groups but no official figures were available. The heavy-handed tactics used by Turkish police against protesters drew criticism from the Council of Europe. “I condemn the excessive use of force by the Turkish police against demonstrators and journalists,” Nils Muiznieks, the Council of Europe commissioner for human rights, said in a statement sent to AFP.
Saturday’s “events add to the list of cases in which the handling of demonstrations in Turkey has raised serious human rights concerns,” he added. Photographs showed police violence in Istanbul’s streets close to the square, with some people lying on the ground after inhaling tear gas and some in blood. Other pictures showed officers using batons in their backpacks. “Misconduct of law enforcement officials poses a direct threat to the rule of law and cannot be tolerated,” said Muiznieks, urging Ankara to ensure that handling of protests is carried out in compliance with human rights standards.
Erdogan had warned ahead of the weekend’s protests of the police clampdown. “If you go there, our security forces have received clear-cut instructions and will do whatever is necessary from A-to-Z,” he told thousands of loyalists at a rally. Erdogan has been facing down a series of crises in the last 12 months — from a government corruption scandal implicating the premier and key allies to the mine tragedy that killed 301 workers last month. Critics meanwhile accuse Erdogan of pressing ahead with controversial policies including muzzling the press, tightening the government’s sway over the judiciary and curbing the Internet. However, the premier remains hugely popular particularly among rural Turks and faces a fragmented opposition that ensures he remains a formidable political foe.
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