Turkish teen’s death sparks clashes

TRAGIC DEATH::Police used tear gas and water cannons on protesters after 15-year-old Berkin Elvan, who had been in a coma for 269 days, died in an Istanbul hospital


Thu, Mar 13, 2014 - Page 6

Turkish riot police on Tuesday fired tear gas at protesters massed outside a hospital after the death of a teenager wounded during anti-government protests last year and left comatose.

About 1,000 people staged a rally outside an Istanbul hospital in solidarity with 15-year-old Berkin Elvan, who was walking to buy bread when he was struck in the head by a tear gas canister during the unrest in the city in June last year.

The story of Elvan — who spent 269 days in a coma — gripped the nation and became a symbol of the heavy-handed tactics used by police to rein in the biggest demonstrations against Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan since he came to power in 2003.

On Tuesday, police used tear gas and water cannons after dozens of protesters at the Istanbul hospital hurled stones at a police bus, and stole helmets and shields, a photographer said, adding that one demonstrator was injured.

In another protest in the capital Ankara, police fired tear gas and used water cannon against about 1,000 students gathered outside the Middle East Technical University, an opposition stronghold, blocking a major highway.

A similar protest was held late on Tuesday in the capital’s central Kizilay Square, where hundreds of people faced off with a large number of riot police. Several demonstrators were injured, witnesses said.

On Istanbul’s pedestrian Istiklal Avenue police also used water cannon late on Tuesday to break up protests.

Students also held silent vigils throughout the day in the cities of Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir, Antalya and Eskisehir, where they boycotted classes, according to local media. Angry protesters shouted “Erdogan, killer” and “All against Fascism.”

In Istanbul’s Okmeydani neighborhood, where Elvan lived, shopkeepers shut their stores in a show of solidarity.

The teenager’s mother, Gulsum Elvan, speaking to reporters outside the Istanbul hospital, challenged Erdogan, who had praised police “heroism” during the protests.

“It’s not God who took my son away, but Prime Minister Erdogan,” she said through tears.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul, who had called Elvan’s family while he was in a coma, expressed his sadness at the boy’s death.

The president urged everyone “to do everything to prevent this from happening again.”

Human Rights Watch charged that police violence against demonstrators was an “endemic problem” in Turkey.

“There is an urgent need to identify which officers used tear gas launchers to determine who shot Berkin,” Emma Sinclair-Webb, Turkey researcher at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. “Berkin and his family deserve justice.”

The protests in June last year began as a small environmental movement to save an Istanbul park and snowballed into a nationwide outcry against Erdogan, who critics say has become increasingly authoritarian.

Birkin Elvan’s death brought the toll from the unrest to at least eight, including a policeman.