The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has issued a travel advisory against all but essential travel to Turkey. Demonstrations are taking place in cities across the country. Police are using tear gas and water cannons in response. Foreigners are advised to avoid all demonstrations.
Anti-government demonstrations have entered their third day as battles between police and protesters have spread to 48 cities in Turkey.
The protests initially began as a sit-in over a development project which threatened to redevelop Gezi Park, the last patch of green space in the commercial district of Istanbul. Demonstrators attempted to prevent workers from razing some of the 600 trees for the restoration of Ottoman-era military barracks which will be turned into a shopping centre.
Turkish police responded to the demonstrators by using electric shock batons and tear gas, sparking national protests against what opposition calls the government’s limiting of personal freedoms and an “increasingly conservative and authoritarian agenda”.
By Saturday, the protests had spread to over 90 separate anti-government demonstrations in 48 cities throughout Turkey. Thousands of Turkish residents in Istanbul marched on Taksim Square, chanting “shoulder to shoulder against fascism” and “government resign.” The protests mark the largest demonstrations against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his party, the Justice and Development Party (AKP), which were elected in 2002, and re-elected in 2007. Erdoğan has indicated his desire to change the constitution to allow him to run for a third term.
As clashes escalated, demonstrators attacked police cars and destroyed property. Media in the region has been shut down or limited, further stirring anger among citizens. Turkish police report 26 police officers and 53 civilians had been hurt. Unconfirmed reports from Amnesty International claim that two people had been killed and over 1,000 injured. Police arrested and detained 939 people around the nation. Most have since been released; the remainder will be put on trial.
The harsh methods used by the Turkish police have sparked outrage worldwide. On Saturday, amid outcry from the UK, US, and Amnesty International, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called on the police to withdraw from the demonstrations. Erdoğan admitted to the extremism in police response; however he maintains that the redevelopment of Gezi Park was an excuse for the unrest believing his main opposition, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), are responsible stirring tensions. Edrogan also offered to speak to the protesters, however there is no clear leader of the demonstrations. The Prime Minister pledged to continue with plans to redevelop Taksim Square.
On Sunday morning, despite isolated clashes, the atmosphere is relatively peaceful, however, the protests are expected to occur in the afternoons and evenings, and are suspected to be sustained.