Turkey shuts down iconic park again

FLASHPOINT::Although an Istanbul court ruled against redevelopment plans which sparked last month’s protests in the park, the decision is expected to be appealed

AP, ISTANBUL, Turkey

Wed, Jul 10, 2013 - Page 7

An Istanbul park that was at the center of weeks of anti-government demonstrations opened for a few hours on Monday, but Turkish authorities quickly closed it and fired a water cannon, tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters heading to the area for a planned rally.

The attack — the second by police on protesters since Saturday — occurred on a pedestrian road leading to Istanbul’s landmark Taksim Square and adjacent Gezi Park.

On Monday afternoon, Turkish Governor Huseyin Avni Mutlu declared Gezi Park reopened to the public, but warned he would not allow it to become a point for more demonstrations.

About three hours later, police asked the public to leave the park and closed it.

An Associated Press journalist at the scene said police used shields to push some laggards out of the park, fired tear gas at a few protesters who struck a police shield, and detained a dozen people.

Some protesters were seen hurling stones at a police water cannon.

The Istanbul Bar Association said about 30 demonstrators were rounded up, including members of a group opposed to Taksim’s redevelopment who had called Monday’s Gezi protest.

The Istanbul Medical Association said several people were injured.

Mutlu said on Twitter that the park was shut down again because there were “many calls to turn Gezi Park into an area of unlawful demonstrations and occupation.”

Gezi had been cordoned off since June 15, when police forcibly evacuated thousands of environmentalists who occupied it amid widespread protests against Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government.

The park is one of a few green areas in the center of Istanbul. Government plans to redevelop Taksim and build a replica Ottoman-era military barracks at Gezi sparked the protests.

However, they quickly turned into an outpouring of discontent with Erdogan’s government.

Opponents say Erdogan, who came to power a decade ago, has become increasingly authoritarian — a charge the prime minister rejects and points to the 50 percent support his party received at elections in 2011.

The protests have largely tapered off since last month.

However, on Saturday police used tear gas to break up a few thousand demonstrators planning to break through police cordons to enter Gezi. More than 50 people were detained.

The media rights group, Reporters Without Borders, said at least 12 journalists were attacked by police during Saturday’s protest and at least two were in police custody.

Last month an Istanbul court ruled against the redevelopment plans, but the decision is not final and is expected to be appealed at a higher administrative court.

At least four people — three protesters and a police officer — were killed in the widespread protests last month.

Erdogan has dismissed the protests by the mainly middle class, urban and secular-oriented Turks as a foreign-led conspiracy against his government and has held counter rallies to shore up support among his more conservative base.