Turkish police began to retreat from a main Istanbul square Saturday, taking away barricades and allowing in tens of thousands of protesters, in an apparent bid to end tensions after two days of anti-government protests that some have quickly dubbed the “Turkish Spring.”
Some protesters hurled objects at the withdrawing officers and police vehicles, prompting the officers to fire several rounds of tear gas to push back the crowds and resume pulling out of Taksim Square, the private Dogan news agency reported.
The state-run Anadolu Agency said the protesters threw fireworks at police.
According to Today’s Zaman, police unleashed tear gas and water cannons against protesters trying to reach the park on Saturday.
As the retreat unfolded, dozens of tweets were coming in warning of at least a partial internet blockage in Turkey, with reports of Facebook and Twitter being blocked and access to the internet being unusually slow.
Earlier, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan called on demonstrators to end their protest, but remained defiant about countering the gatherings, saying that the government would press ahead with the redevelopment plans at Taksim Square that sparked the demonstrations.
In a televised speech, Erdogan said police may have used tear gas excessively while confronting protesters and said this would be investigated. But he added that the protesters didn’t represent the majority of Turks and accused them of raising tensions.
According to witnesses in Istanbul, Turkish police forces Friday attacked protesters violently with tear gas and water cannons, directly targeting their faces and bodies. Human rights groups claim hundreds of people were injured in the scuffles with police that lasted through the night.
The demonstration against redevelopment of the park adjoining Taksin Square has turned into a wider protest against Erdogan, who is seen as becoming increasingly authoritarian, and spread to other Turkish cities despite a court decision to temporarily halt the demolition of the park. A human rights group said hundreds of people were injured in scuffles with police that lasted through the night Friday-Saturday.
At Taksim, protesters chanted slogans against Erdogan’s government and called on him to resign.
In the capital Ankara on Saturday, police clashed with protesters who gathered at a park close to Erdogan’s office.
The dawn raid by security authorities Friday ignited a furious anti-government protest that took over Taksim, 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.
A meeting between Istanbul’s Mayor Kadir Topbaş, the Taksim Gezi Park Platform, and the Chamber of Architects was due to be held later Saturday to find a solution to the park controversy.
Istanbul residents on Saturday posted photos and videos of bruised and bloodied protesters, of civilians wearing gas masks and surgical masks to protect them from police offensives, and of security forces using pressurized water and tear gas to keep them in check.
A video, published on Facebook earlier Saturday, shows police firing tear gas canisters at protesters, some of whom hurl them back, and young men and women helping each other cope through the hail of smoke.
A live feed from Taksim Square, showing events as they unfold, has been made available by the Turkish news agency DHA.
On social media, powerful photos from the scenes in Istanbul were being published at breakneck speed.
AP contributed to this report.