Demonstrator’s death stirs protests in Turkey

Dissident groups call for demonstrations after death of 22-year-old man in clashes with police in country’s southeast.

Tensions remain high in Hatay, a province of mixed ethnicities and religions that borders Syria [EPA]


Anti-government protesters in Turkey have called for mass demonstrations after a Turkish protester died in a protest in the southeastern province of Hatay.

Ahmet Atakan, 22, died on Tuesday in a protest organised to show solidarity with students opposed to the construction of a road through a university in Ankara, the capital, but the cause of his death was in dispute.

Taksim Solidarity Platform, an umbrella group of Turkish dissidents, called for a gathering in Istanbul’s Taksim Square to mark the death of Atakan.

Several anti-government platforms also called for nationwide demonstrations in various cities including Ankara and Antakya.

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Turkish police fire teargas to disperse hundreds in Istanbul

(Reuters) – Turkish police fired teargas in Istanbul on Wednesday to disperse several hundred people protesting against the police crackdown on last month’s anti-government demonstrations, local media reported.

Police blocked several hundred protesters in a busy street near Istanbul’s Taksim Square from marching in support of a teenage boy who is said to be in a coma after being hit in the head by a teargas canister during the unrest.

TV footage showed police vehicles firing water cannons and protesters running into side streets.

What started as a small protest against the planned redevelopment of the city’s Gezi Park triggered nationwide protests last month against Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, accused by his critics of becoming increasingly authoritarian.

Five people died and thousands were injured in the anti-government unrest, which posed the biggest challenge to Erdogan’s decade-old rule.

While the protests have largely died down across the country, some isolated demonstrations have persisted in Istanbul and the capital, Ankara.

(Writing by Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)


Dozens held in Turkey, silent protester goes viral

(Reuters) – A lone, silent vigil by a man in Istanbul inspired copycat protests on Tuesday, as police detained dozens of people across Turkey in an operation linked to three weeks of often violent demonstrations against Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan.

Overnight in Ankara, riot police used tear gas and water cannon to disperse hundreds of protesters who had gathered in and around the government quarter of Kizilay.

But in stark contrast to the recent fierce clashes in several cities, dozens of protesters merely stood in silence in Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir, inspired by a man who lit up social media by doing just that for eight hours in Istanbul’s Taksim Square on Monday.

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Erdogan in ‘final’ protest warning

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has issued a “final warning” to protesters to leave Gezi Park in central Istanbul.



“Our patience is at an end. I am making my warning for the last time,” he said.


Clashes between police and protesters in the park and adjoining Taksim Square have continued for nearly two weeks.


Activists have said they will not leave until the government abandons plans to redevelop the park. Mr Erdogan’s party has proposed a referendum on the issue.

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Turkey Protests: Police Use Teargas and Water Cannon to Clear Taksim Square

Dozens of lawyers dragged from peaceful protest at Istanbul’s main courthouse as riot police attempt to quash demonstrations

A protester throws a teargas cannister back at riot police in Taksim Square

A protester throws a teargas canister back at riot police amid a violent struggle for control of Taksim Square in central Istanbul. Photograph: Murad Sezer/Reuters


Riot police in Turkey deployed teargas and water cannon in Istanbul’s central Taksim Square on Tuesday in a swoop aimed at quashing two-week-old mass street protests against the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

As the police moved in on the nerve centre of the nationwide uprising, dozens of lawyers were dragged away from the city’s central courthouse in what appeared to be a flagrant abuse of human rights.

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Istanbul residents accuse police of ‘massacre’ at protest against park demolition

Peaceful sit-in turns into furious anti-government rally after security forces crack down heavily on ‘Turkish Spring’ demonstrators hoping to save Gezi Park

A man runs as riot police use tear gas and pressurized water to quash a sit-in protest to try and prevent the demolition of trees at an Istanbul park, Turkey, Friday, May 31, 2013. Police moved in at dawn Friday to disperse the crowd on the fourth day of the protest against a contentious government plan to revamp Istanbul’s main square, Taksim. (AP Photo)


ISTANBUL — Turkish riot police used tear gas and water cannons Friday to end a peaceful sit-in by hundreds of people trying to prevent trees from being uprooted in an Istanbul park. The dawn raid ignited a furious anti-government protest that took over the city’s main square and spread to other cities, culminating in what Turkish Facebook users described as a “massacre” which unfolded amid clouds of tear gas.

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Police clash with demonstrators trying to mark May Day at Istanbul’s main square despite ban


Clashes erupt between police and protesters during May Day celebrations in Istanbul, Turkey, Wednesday May 1, 2013. The government, citing security reasons, banned a rally on Istanbul’s Taksim Square, which is undergoing major renovations. Police fired tear gas to disperse hundreds of demonstrators trying to break through barricades to access the square. (AP Photo) (The Associated Press)

Associated Press

Violent clashes erupted between police and protesters in Istanbul on Wednesday, when hundreds tried to breach barricades and reach the city’s main square to mark May Day in defiance of a government ban.

Some demonstrators hurled stones, gasoline bombs and fireworks at riot police, who responded with tear gas as clashes broke out on side streets leading to Taksim Square.

The square is the city’s main hub and is currently undergoing a major facelift. The Turkish government banned celebrations at Taksim this year, citing construction safety risks.

Trade union groups, however, have vowed to mark May Day in Taksim, which is of symbolic importance to workers and left-wing groups. Dozens of protesters were killed there in 1977 when unidentified gunmen opened fire on May Day celebrators.

On Wednesday, subway, bus and ferry services across the Bosporus were partially suspended and bridges were closed down to prevent large groups from gathering in Taksim. Some 22,000 officers were deployed to police the city, the state-run Anadolu Agency reported.

Throngs of demonstrators, waving flags and shouting anti-government slogans, still tried to access the square.

The Istanbul governor’s office said 20 protesters were arrested and at least two police injured during the clashes. The private Dogan news agency said at least two journalists were also hurt.

Wednesday’s clashes in Istanbul came after three years of relatively peaceful May Day festivities.


Associated Press writer Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey contributed.

Court: Museum must be converted to mosque

Art experts alarmed at precedent of Turkish church



Art history experts are expressing alarm at a court ruling in Turkey that the 13th century Church of Hagia Sophia – which has been a museum and contains irreplaceable examples of its time period – must be converted to a mosque.

The situation has been detailed by the art experts at The Art Newspaper.

There, Andrew Finkel wrote that the famous structure in Trabzon, a city along the Black Sea, will be converted to a mosque following an extended battle over its use.

Finkel is alarmed, however, because “many in Turkey believe that the Church of Hagia Sophia is a stalking horse for the possible re-conversion of its more famous namesake in Istanbul, the Hagia Sophia Museum.”

“A building covenanted as a mosque cannot be used for any other purpose,” Mazhar Yildirimham, of the General Directorate of Pious Foundations, said in the report. The organization made the claim that the structure is “an inalienable part of the foundation of Sultan Mehmed II,” who reportedly originally took over the church building and turned it into a mosque in 1462.

Yildirimham said in the report regarding the walls that are covered with Christian art, “There are modern techniques for masking the walls.”

The structure for the last 50 years has been run by Turkey’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism. It also had been used as an arsenal and a cholera hospital in the mid 1900s.

It was rescued from dereliction, the report said, by experts from the University of Edinburgh who restored the original ground plan.

The Art Newspaper said Antony Eastmond, of England’s Courtauld Institute of Art, and an authority of the building, said, “This is the most complete surviving Byzantine structure; there is no 13th century monument like it.”

It’s not the only structure undergoing a remake, the report said.

“In January, Istanbul’s oldest surviving church, the fifth-century St. John Stoudios, which became the Imrahor Mosque in the 15th century before fire and earthquake left it in ruins, was transferred from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism to the General Directorate, which plans to rebuild it as a mosque.”

“Recent experience suggests that the directorate reconstructs mosques without regard for the millennia of history they contain,” the art report said.

At Jihad Watch, Islam expert Robert Spencer noted, “Islamic supremacists regard the pre-Islamic past of any Muslim country as worthless trash … not to be preserved for its archaeological value, but effaced as an insult to Islam.

“This is the same impulse that led to the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan,” he wrote.


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Syrian opposition pushes to form interim government for rebel-held areas

Turkey Syria_mar18.JPG

March 18, 2013 – Head of the new Syrian National Coalition for Opposition and Revolutionary Forces Mouaz al-Khatib, second left, speaks with other unidentified members, during a meeting in Istanbul, Turkey. (AP)

ISTANBUL, Turkey –  Syria’s main opposition coalition began a push Monday to form an interim government to provide services to people living in parts of the country now controlled by rebel forces.The effort is the most serious yet by the forces opposing President Bashar Assad to establish a rival administration and bring together all the factions working to topple his government.

They have no guarantee of success. Two previous attempts to form an interim government failed because of divisions within the group, the Syrian National Coalition, and some members said before the meeting Monday that it was unclear whether they would agree this time. Many have also complained of insufficient international support for their initiative.

But many said that members feel a new sense of urgency, as the amount of territory under rebel control has expanded.

“What delayed this before was that there was no agreement on the importance of forming a government,” said Burhan Ghalioun, coalition member and former head of its predecessor, the Syrian National Council. “Now people are convinced that a government is necessary.”

But in a stance that could frustrate their Western supporters, including the United States, coalition members dismissed any possibility of negotiating with the current regime and insisted they will talk only when Assad has left power. Many believe the only way to accomplish this is through continued advances by rebel forces.

“There has to be a military victory on the ground to convince the regime or some elements in the regime” of the need for change, Ghalioun said. “The solution is not an end to the violence. This is linked to pushing the regime toward steps to a democratic system.”

Despite repeated failures to bring about a negotiated solution to the conflict, the United Nations-Arab League envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, continues to push for one.

Two years after the anti-Assad uprising began, the conflict has become a civil war, with hundreds of rebel group fighting Assad’s forces across Syria and millions of people pushed from their homes by the violence. The U.N. says more than 70,000 people have been killed.

Rebel progress against government forces since last summer has expanded the areas controlled by rebel forces. They now run a large swath of territory along Syria’s northern border with Turkey as well as much of the east, near Iraq. This has given them control of much of the city of Aleppo, Syria’s largest, and one provincial capital, Raqqa.

Currently, rebel areas are administered by an improvised patchwork of local councils and rebel brigades, many of who run bakeries, security patrols and courts and prisons for criminals and soldiers captured in battle. But more ambitious government services, like electricity supply and running water, are limited.

In the last two months, various members of the coalition, including its head, Mouaz al-Khatib, have visited these areas. Khalid Saleh, the Coalition’s spokesman, said these visits made many realized the necessity of an opposition government.

“When they went inside, they felt the severe need for a government because we have large, liberated territories that need administration,” he said.

The challenges facing an interim government would be great, both inside and outside of Syria. Coalition members often complain of insufficient international support to allow them to form an effective administration. Such a body could also face fierce resistance from rebel groups fighting on the ground. Most fiercely guard their independence, and likely would not follow any group that could not improve its arms.

Islamic extremist groups have also risen in the rebels’ ranks, which could pose a dilemma for the new government. Radical groups like Jabhat al-Nusra, which the U.S. considers a terrorist organization, are among the most powerful forces in many rebel areas, meaning the rebel administration will have to deal with them. This could risk isolating the new body from Western nations.

Salem Al Meslet, a candidate for Prime Minister, said international support will be key.

“If we come up with a government, will this government have the support of the international community?” he said. “This is very important for us.”

He said that unifying the rebel forces on the ground would be a priority.

“The first thing to do is to unify all the powers on the ground to be under one management,” he said. “We don’t want loose weapons here and there.”

Twelve candidates have been nominated for Prime Minister, who will be elected by the coalition’s 73 members. The vote is expected by Tuesday.

The candidates include prominent Syrian opposition politicians and exile businessmen and academics. Among them are Osama Kadi, the coalition’s economic adviser from London, Ontario in Canada; Ghassan Hitto, a longtime IT manager who recently moved from Dallas, Texas to Turkey; Assad Asheq Mustafa, a former Syrian agriculture minister and former governor of Syria’s central Hama province, and Walid al-Zoabi, a real estate entrepreneur from Dubai.

Some coalition members suggested that, if they could not agree, they could create a collective leadership in the form of an executive commission.


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