Protests Grow in Turkey As Police Withdraw From Taksim Square

What started as a protest against a development project that will demolish a vital city park has become a widespread and angry protest against Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, with scenes that echo the Arab Spring.

In a rebuke of the increasingly Islamist government (which just toughened alcohol laws), protesters have taken to the street in over 90 demonstrations across the country. The Turkish Interior Minister says that there have already been 939 arrests of protesters.

Taksim Square, where the protests began (and which is to be remade as "a replica Ottoman-era army barracks and mall"), has remained the focal point of the protests. This afternoon, police left the square, allowing thousands of protesters to enter, congregate, and chant anti-government slogans. Protesters openly drank beers in a clear provocation of the Islamist-leaning government.

“The police were here yesterday, they will be there today, and they will be there tomorrow in Taksim,” Prime Minister Erdogan said in a televised speech this morning. However, by nightfall, the police, who have brutally repressed the demonstrations, were nowhere to be seen in Taksim Square.

Streets that would normally be filled with tourists have now become abandoned. Demonstrators ransacked bulldozers and equipment of the construction company that had already begun demolishing the Taksim Square, and spread out to demonstrate across the city.

The Times describes the widespread anger:

On streets running off Istiklal, young men tore up granite slabs from the sidewalk and bashed them against the road, picking up the splintered pieces to throw at the police. On some streets, protesters set up makeshift barricades with trash cans, panels of wallboard from construction sites and potted plants taken from outside fancy hotels.

On another major boulevard, protesters stopped a municipal water truck, which they believed was on its way to refill the police water cannons, and opened its valves, flooding the street. Nearby, protesters marched past the headquarters of the state television network, T.R.T., shouting, “Burn the state media!”

Turkey, a country that had avoided the same kind of upheaval that struck its regional neighbors, has now become a hotbed of protest.

[Associated Press]