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Protests

Turkish protesters unleash popular anger at government

Turkey is witnessing its most violent protests in more than a decade. In the beginning, demonstrators marched against a construction project in an Istanbul park. Now they're fighting against the government.

A festival-like atmosphere was the mood in Istanbul's Gezi Park on Sunday. Tens of thousands gathered at the site where violent clashes between police and protesters first broke out. Demonstrators enjoyed picnics with music and candlelight. Volunteers provided food and helped clean up the chaos from previous days.

Social Democrats, Communists, young and old, gay and lesbian have come together to occupy the park. Together, they chant slogans such as "Taksim belongs to us; Istanbul belongs to us" and "We fight shoulder to shoulder against Fascism."

But in the neighboring district of Besiktas, demonstrators fight on. They have set up barricades - made of flowerpots, benches, torn-down streetlights and buses - in the streets around Taksim Square. Demonstrators there want to block the police from entering the area. In the early evening, demonstrators and police will engage in heavy clashes involving rocks and tear gas.

Nor is the fighting limited to Istanbul. In the capital city of Ankara and in the city of Izmir, clashes between police and protesters continue.

What began as a demonstration against the felling of trees as part of a construction project in Istanbul's Gezi Park has evolved into a nationwide protest against the center-right government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. And anti-government epithets are growing louder and louder.

Backlit by a bright orange fire burning in a city, a man waves a red flag with his hands
(Photo: Umit Bektas/REUTERS)

Erdogan has blamed the secular opposition party for inciting crowds made up of "a few looters"

'Everyone is fighting for the same thing'

"We're here to make a change," a 25-year-old demonstrator told DW. "We've been fighting and sitting here for days in order to make the government more attentive. The government should listen to us. We want human rights to be respected, and we're fed up with censorship of the press."

According a 28-year-old political science student, the demonstration is having a big impact.

"With everything that's happening right now, we feel we can speak our minds more freely," she said. "We see that we're not alone in our thoughts and feelings. We now know that in the future we can bring thousands of people in the streets in a very short amount of time. That gives us some of the freedom back that we've been missing for so long."

Nor should the demonstration should end here, in Gezi park, said 23-year-old Özgür Sanlioglu.

"With this protest, we're bringing together people of different religion, heritage, language and world view," Sanlioglu said. "Everyone's fighting for the same thing. We'll fight until something changes.

'The pressure has built up'

The peaceful protests continue at Taksim Square. People sit on the roofs of dizzyingly high buildings surrounding the area. Below, demonstrators dance to traditional Turkish music. Flags of the Social Democratic Party are clearly visible.

In displays of solidarity, the crowd expresses its support of demonstrations in other cities, chanting slogans such as "Ankara, Izmir! Gezi Park stands with you!" Bus rides to Ankara are being planned.

Demonstrators stand in front of a makeshift shield during clashes with Turkish riot police in Ankara
(Photo: Umit Bektas/REUTERS)

Demonstrators stand in front of a makeshift shield during clashes with Turkish riot police in Ankara

Turkish Interior Minister Muammer Güler has estimated the damage from the protests at more than 8 million euros ($10.4 million). 

"Every case of property damage will be prosecuted," Güler has warned.

A 25-year-old female member of Turkey's Social Democratic Party feels the protests are justified, though. "For years, the nation has felt a certain pressure from above," she told DW. "We will demonstrate until the government steps down."

Twitter is a 'plague'

On the Turkish private broadcaster Habertürk, Prime Minister Erdogan confirms his plans for Taksim Square: The Atatürk Cultural Center will be torn down and a mosque will be built in its stead.

"To do that, I don't have to ask the permission of the opposition or looters," Erdogan says. "We already have permission from the people who voted for us."

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan holds his hand pensively over his mouth while sitting at a podium.
(Photo: Heinz-Peter Bader/REUTERS)

Damage control: Erdogan has already withdrawn Turkish police from certain areas of Istanbul

Erdogan also views Twitter and other social networks with suspicion.

"At the moment, there is a plague by the name of Twitter," Erdogan says. "Most of what is written there is not true. What's called 'social media' is a headache for the nation."

Despite the unrest and fierce criticism of his government, Erdogan is taking a planned trip abroad to Morocco and Algeria. He plans to return to Turkey on Thursday, June 6.

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