Violence once again engulfed the streets of Istanbul overnight as thousands of people defiantly demonstrated after riot police used tear gas and water cannons to clear up central Taksim Square and the nearby Gezi Park late Saturday. Tensions are now high as riot police flown in from across Turkish provinces patrol the Istanbul streets in advance of a ruling party rally that will take place later Sunday, reports the BBC.
Following several days of relative calm, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan issued what he described as his final warning to protesters, saying they needed to leave the protest site, noting that the people would have a chance to express themselves in elections that will take place in eight months, reports Bloomberg. After warning that security forces “know how to clear” the area, riot police showed up in Taksim and Gezi and quickly moved in wearing gas masks and riot gear. Journalists trying to enter Gezi Park were pushed back by police that later shot tear gas at them to keep them away. Police chased down protesters, even to a nearby upscale hotel. “We tried to flee and the police pursued us. It was like war,” one protester tells Reuters. As news of the crackdown began to spread, thousands tried to reach Taksim but military gendarmes were deployed across the city to prevent the demonstrators from reaching the central location and regrouping.
The “scale of Saturday’s police action appeared to signal that Turkey’s government hoped to deal a decisive blow to protesters,” points out the Wall Street Journal. Indeed, the government seems to want to erase any trace of the protests, sending in bulldozers overnight to Gezi Park to tear down the tent city that had emerged in the area, reports the Associated Press. Demonstrators, however, seem undaunted, vowing to retake the park. “We will win Taksim Square again and we will win Taksim Gezi Park again,” a spokesman for the protesters said. In a clear illustration of how the unrest is set to continue, a main public-sector union that has some 240,000 members called for a national strike Monday, reports Reuters.