ISTANBUL — Thousands of Turkish police mobilized Saturday in central Istanbul ahead of demonstrations by “terrorists” to mark the first anniversary of last year’s protests that mushroomed into a revolt against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s rule.
Erdogan’s government deployed thousands of riot police and police in civilian clothes to enforce a ban on protests at Taksim Square, the epicenter of last year’s demonstrations, an AFP reporter said.
Erdogan on Friday urged young Turks to ignore the call to stage a protest to mark the anniversary of a movement that began last year as a neighborhood bid to save Gezi Park, adjacent to Taksim Square, from real estate developers.
Following a deadly police crackdown, the protests swelled into an outpouring of anger against the perceived authoritarian tendencies of the Islamic-rooted government.
“One year later, people, including so-called artists, are calling for demonstrations, but you, Turkey’s youth, you will not respond to the call,” Erdogan told a crowd of a thousand young people in Istanbul.
“These terrorist organisations manipulated our morally and financially weak youth to attack our unity and put our economy under threat,” Erdogan said.
Turkish media reported that around 25,000 police officers as well as dozens of water cannon trucks and armored vehicles would be deployed to Istanbul on Saturday to prevent demonstrators from reaching the square.
The opposition leader urged the authorities to let people peacefully protest.
“Let the young people protest as they want. They are peaceful, they can’t harm anyone. What will you achieve with all these bans,?” said Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP).
Tensions grew when a 64-year-old woman who fell into a coma after inhaling tear gas during last year’s protests died this week at an Istanbul hospital.
A total of eight people died and thousands were wounded as a result of the crackdown on the protests, which turned into the largest challenge to Erdogan since his party came to power in 2002.