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Teen's death sparks protests across Turkey

| Tuesday, March 11, 2014, 8:27 p.m.
Family members mourn on Tuesday, March 11, 2014, in Istanbul as a procession passes through the streets below bearing the coffin of Berkin Elvan, a Turkish teenager who had been in a coma since being hit in the head by a tear gas canister fired by police during the summer’s anti-government protests
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Proyesters carry placards displaying a portrait of Berkin Elvan that read “We want justice for Berkin Elvan,” on Tuesday, March 11, 2014, in Ankara.

ISTANBUL — Protesters clashed with police on Tuesday in cities across Turkey because of the death of a 15-year-old boy who was hit in the head by a tear-gas canister during anti-government demonstrations last summer.

Police unleashed water cannon and tear gas on thousands of demonstrators, another pre-election headache for Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan as he battles a corruption scandal that has become one of the biggest challenges of his decade in power.

Istanbul and Ankara have had protests in recent weeks against what demonstrators regard as Erdogan's authoritarian reaction to the graft affair, which has included new laws tightening Internet controls and handing government greater influence over the appointment of judges and prosecutors.

Berkin Elvan, then 14, got caught up in street battles in Istanbul between police and protesters on June 16 while going to buy bread for his family. He slipped into a coma and became a rallying point for government opponents, who held regular vigils at the hospital where he lay in intensive care.

A crowd chanted “fascist government, Erdogan killer,” as Elvan's coffin was carried through the streets of the working-class Istanbul neighborhood his family calls home.

There was similar police intervention against thousands of protesters on both the European and Asian sides of Istanbul, among dozens of places across Turkey where posts on social media had called for protests.

In the Mediterranean city of Mersin, two women were injured when struck by a water cannon vehicle, one of them suffering a head wound, the Dogan news agency said. Four police were reported injured in the clashes there.

Police detained 20 people as they skirmished with protesters trying to march to the offices of Erdogan's AK Party in the Black Sea city of Samsun, Dogan reported.

In the southern city of Adana, protesters threw stones and aimed fireworks at police lines as water cannon vehicles advanced against them, spraying water. Large numbers also protested in the western cities of Izmir and Eskisehir in the most extensive protests since last summer's unrest.

Crowds chanted “murderer Erdogan” and “the murderer state will be brought to account” as mourners carried Elvan's coffin, wrapped in red cloth and strewn with red carnations, to a “cemevi,” an Alevi place of worship, in central Istanbul.

Alevis are a religious minority in mainly Sunni Muslim Turkey who espouse a liberal version of Islam and have often been at odds with Erdogan's Islamist-rooted government.

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