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Turkey

Death of Gezi Park protest victim enrages Turkey

The death of 15-year-old Berkin Elvan reignited the protests in Turkey. Ankara, Istanbul and Izmir saw violent clashes between protesters and police. The people in the streets agree: Erdogan's government has to go.

Tens of thousands of people gathered around the Alevi mosque in Istanbul's Okmeydani neighborhood Wednesday (12.04.2013) afternoon. The large crowd flocked to the funeral of 15-year-old Berkin Elvan. The boy had been in a coma for 269 days after he had taken a police bullet to the head last year during the Gezi Park protests.

According to media reports, Elvan wasn't a protester, but had merely left the house to buy bread. When Elvan died Tuesday morning, he only weighed 16 kilogram (35 pounds). He is the eighth person, including one police officer, to die in the protests against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government.

Berkin Elvan funeral, March 12, 2014, Istanbul. (Photo: REUTERS/ Osman Orsal)

Thousands of people participated in Elvan's funeral march

The boy's mother blamed the prime minister for her son's death. "It wasn't God who took my son - it was Erdogan," she told journalists, crying.

President Abdullah Gül offered the family his condolences. In an interview with the Turkish newspaper "Hürriyet," he said he would "do everything in my power so something like this won't happen again."

Revitalizing the protests

After the funeral, the enraged crowd marched to the center of Istanbul. Among the protesters were students and parents, but also members of a variety of Turkish parties: the pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party (HDP) and the Kemalist Youth Union of Turkey (TGB), as well as the workers' party and the anarchists. Posters showed photos of the eight victims.

Elvan's death has brought the people back out onto the streets all over the country. Protesters and police clashed in Ankara, Istanbul, Izmir and other cities, with tear gas and water cannons being used.

Berkin Elvan has become a symbol

Protesters have called Erdogan and his government "murderers" and announced their intention to take further action. "Ever since Gezi Park, we're all fighting together, here, on the streets," Emir Kilici from the Taksim Solidarity Platform told DW. "Berkin's death and the death of all the victims are a symbol for us and our resistance."

Kilici called his country's leadership a "fascist government" and said Erdogan was a dictator.

"This dictatorship is spreading across the whole country, without any feeling of shame," he said. "After all this corruption, the government doesn't even feel the need to offer an explanation to the country. We will take to the streets again and again to protest the AKP-dictatorship."

Sinan Birecik from the Youth Union of Turkey was also fuming about the "fascist behavior of the government" and about the police attacking protesters. He said the protests came from the people and they were going to "prove that the government has to pay for its actions in the coming elections."

The protesters' only demand is that the government step down, 25-year-old Efe Özal told DW, adding, "Until that happens we'll keep going out into the streets." Supporters of the pro-Kurdish HDP felt the same way, the student said.

Death by teargas

Police had blocked streets during the protest on Wednesday. In the early afternoon, they used water cannons and tear gas to split up the crowd. Protesters reported the officers also fired plastic pellets. The protesters, in return, threw stones and fireworks at the officers. Protesters in Istanbul erected barricades and set fire to piles of garbage.

People crouched over trying to hide from a water cannon in Istanbul, March 12, 2014. (Photo: Emrah/Depo Photos/ABACAPRESS.COM / picture alliance / dpa)

After the funeral, violence errupted in Istanbul

Many people sought refuge in shopping malls, but those were hit with tear gas as well. "Hürriyet" reported at night that a police man had died of a heart attack in a cloud of tear gas. Numerous victims had to be treated in hospitals.

Human Rights Watch criticized police violence in Turkey and the lackluster investigation of the Berkin Elvan case: "Police violence against demonstrators is an endemic problem in Turkey," the NGO's Emma Sinclair-Webb wrote in a statement on the organization's website. "A culture of impunity is entrenched. Berkin Elvan, the boy in the coma who never woke up, has become a symbol of Turkey's record of police violence and lack of accountability. Berkin and his family deserve justice."

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