Turkish riot police end 18-day protest
ISTANBUL — Turkey's riot police fired tear gas and water cannons on Saturday — taking less than 30 minutes to bring to an end an 18-day occupation of an Istanbul park at the center of the strongest challenge to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's 10-year rule.
The sweep by white-helmeted riot police emptied Gezi Park of protesters, leaving a series of colorful, abandoned tents behind. Bulldozers moved in afterward, scooping up debris as crews of workmen in hard hats and fluorescent-yellow vests tore down the tents. Protesters put up little physical resistance, even as plain-clothes police shoved many of them to drive them from the park.
White smoke billowed skyward as a phalanx of riot police marched inside the park. They tore down protesters' banners, toppled a communal food stall and sprayed tear gas over the tents.
Demonstrators inside the tents were urged to get out. For more than two weeks, protesters had defied Erdogan's warnings to vacate the area.
Tayfun Kahraman, a member of Taksim Solidarity, an umbrella group of protest movements, said an untold number of people in the park had been injured — some from rubber bullets.
“Let them keep the park; we don't care anymore. Let it all be theirs,” Kahraman said. “This crackdown has to stop. The people are in a terrible state.”
A brutal police intervention on May 31 against those protesting plans to redevelop the square and the park had sparked the biggest anti-government protests in Turkey in decades and dented Erdogan's international reputation.
The protests, which at one point spread to dozens of cities and towns, turned into a much broader expression of discontent about Erdogan's government. The demonstrations indicate his increasingly authoritarian decision-making.
Erdogan, elected with 50 percent of the vote for his third term in 2011, vehemently rejects the accusations by protesters and points to his strong support base.
Erdogan lashed out at what he called the “plot” behind the biggest street protests in his 10-year tenure.
“You are here, and you are spoiling the treacherous plot, the treacherous attack!” he said.