ISTANBUL: Tens of thousands of people turned out Wednesday for the funeral of a teenage boy whose death from injuries suffered during last year’s anti-government protests sparked violent countrywide demonstrations.
Police were bracing for further clashes after they fired tear gas and water cannon at stone-hurling protesters in several cities on Tuesday following the death of 15-year-old Berkin Elvan after 269 days in a coma.
Elvan was hit on the head by a tear gas canister while he was going to buy bread during the demonstrations against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan that gripped Turkey in June.
“Berkin’s murderers are the AKP police,” protesters shouted in Istanbul on Wednesday, referring to Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
More demonstrations have been called for Wednesday, likely to add to pressure on Erdogan, whose government has been rocked by an escalating corruption scandal ahead of elections that could decide his fate.
“How many young people have to die for Erdogan to resign? My only wish is this fascism to end without spilling more blood,” said retired worker Atilla izmirlioglu.
Erdogan has vowed to step down if the AKP, in power since 2002, loses local elections on March 30 that are seen as a key test of his popularity after last year’s unrest and the graft probe.
Elvan’s story became a symbol of the heavy-handed police tactics against demonstrators in June, the biggest of Erdogan’s 11-year-rule.
His death prompted protests reminiscent of last year’s unrest, with thousands of people clashing with police on Tuesday in at least 32 cities including Istanbul and Ankara, where the most violent clashes took place.
According to local media, some 20 demonstrators were injured and 150 arrests made.
Angry protesters shouted “Erdogan, killer” and “All against Fascism”.
In the Okmeydani neighbourhood where the boy lived, shopkeepers had shut their stores in a show of solidarity.
President Abdullah Gul had expressed his sadness at the boy’s death and appealed for calm, urging everyone “to do everything to prevent this from happening again”.
The June protests started as a relatively small environmentalist movement to save Istanbul’s central Gezi Park but evolved into a nationwide wave of protests against Erdogan, who is seen as increasingly authoritarian.
An estimated 2.5 million people took to the streets across Turkey over three weeks in June to demand Erdogan’s resignation. More than 8,000 people were injured, according to medics.
Elvan’s death brought the toll from the unrest to at least eight, including one policeman.
The boy’s mother Gulsum Elvan had challenged Erdogan, who praised police “heroism” during the protests.
“It’s not God who took my son away but prime minister Erdogan,” the tearful mother told reporters on Tuesday.
One student who gave her name as Ayse also blamed the embattled prime minister for the boy’s death.
“Erdogan’s police killed this guy. He should be ashamed but he didn’t even send his condolences to the family.
“Enough is enough, we are fed up with this government of murderers,” she told AFP.
Several political parties and trade unions have called for a mass demonstration on Wednesday after Elvan’s funeral.
“Their children steal millions and our children are killed when they go to buy bread,” said the Disk union.
The union was referring to a corruption scandal that broke in December, implicating Erdogan’s inner circle and their families.
Since then, sporadic protests have continued against controversial measures taken by Erdogan in response to the scandal including laws tightening state control over the Internet and the judiciary.
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