Tensions in Turkey Escalate as Police Crackdown Persists

World | June 17, 2013, Monday // 11:31|  views

Young women are holding a flag in Istanbul with the portrait of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the first President of Turkey, who is credited with being the founder of the secular Republic of Turkey. Photo by EPA/BGNES

Clashes in Turkey persist as police continues to crackdown on protest rallies and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan remains defiant to their demands.

Four people have been injured overnight in the capital Ankara as police used once again teargas and water cannon.

One 20-year-old woman in Ankara was critically hurt by a teargas canister that struck her on the head, the city's medical association said.

Activists have been calling on people to return to Taksim square in Istanbul, but police have blocked all roads leading to it and the adjacent Gezi Park, which was occupied for 18 days by people protesting against plans for its redevelopment. Police are searching bags and requesting IDs from all attempting to pass by the square.

The park is sealed by the police and the tent camp of the protesters has been leveled with bulldozers.

Disturbances were reported late Sunday night in streets near Taksim, in the Nisantasi area and around the Galata bridge, which crosses the Sultan Ahmet district with police using large amount of teargas and water cannon.

The BBC reports that a Member of Parliament for the opposition People's Republican Party was beaten by police.

300 protesters had been detained across the country in the last 24 hours; 100 in Ankara alone, and citizens of Russia and Iran are among them.

Labor unions in Turkey have called a one-day nationwide strike to protest against the police crackdown on anti-government demonstrations.

The Confederation of Public Workers' Unions (KESK) and Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions (DISK) are demanding an end to "police violence."

KESK and DISK represent hundreds of thousands of workers. Associations representing doctors, engineers and dentists have said they too will support the strike.

The Turkish Medical Association has condemned the extensive use of teargas, warning of the dangers and the health risks of exposing such large numbers of people to its chemicals.

Doctors in Turkey have called on an international intervention to stop the "savage use of chemical gases against civilians."

The Turkish government has already declared the strike illegal.

Erdogan has angrily defended the crackdown.

Addressing supporters in Istanbul on Sunday, he said it had been his duty to order the eviction of the protesters in the city's Gezi Park the previous night.

"The protests are nothing more than the minority's attempt to dominate the majority. We could not have allowed this and we will not allow it," he told supporters at the rally, where he delivered a fiery 2-hour-long speech.

Erdogan also denied behaving like a dictator, criticized foreign media, and pledged to "identify one by one those who have terrorized the streets".

According to reports of Bulgarian bTV, nearly 1 million attended the rally in his support with hundreds of buses bringing the participants from all over the country.

The demonstrators have meanwhile vowed that they will not back down.

Since May 28, Turkey has seen tireless civil unrest sparked by a police crackdown on a local protest over construction plans for Gezi Park on Taksim square.

The rallies spread quickly, engulfing a number of major cities, and eventually turned into demonstrations against the authoritarian and Islamic-leaning policy of the Turkish government and of Erdogan.

Five people, including a police officer, are reported to have died since the protests began, with thousands more hurt and hundreds arrested. There are fears that the dead toll might be much higher than the official reports.

The government says more than 500 police officers are among the injured. There are reports that 6 policemen have committed suicide and over 1 000 have resigned.

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