Government expressions of anger at public protests boiled over today as riot police attacked central Istanbul, firing tear gas and stun grenades at the tens of thousands of demonstrators in Taksim Square.
The latest crackdown comes as a surprise, since Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had promised only yesterday to meet protesters, something that was supposed to be happening on Wednesday.
Instead, police moved heavily into the areas where the protests were taking place. Smaller crackdowns were also reported in Ankara and elsewhere across the nation, as Erdogan declared grimly that there would be “no more tolerance” for dissent.
As for the meeting, that appears to still be scheduled, though officials released a list of who Erdogan would be meeting with and it included a handful of celebrities that are seen as favorable to his rule. Indications are that any protest leaders who had been willing to meet with him before no longer are.
The demonstrations began over a week ago, as environmental activists criticized a plan to demolish a park and replace it with a shopping mall. The brutal reaction to the relatively small rally has ignited nationwide protests against Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian rule.
Erdogan responded by condemning the protesters as “terrorists.” He has gone on to dismiss charges of abusing his power by saying he is the prime minister and the protesters are not.
Exact casualty figures as police move against the protesters are impossible to come by, but are believed to be significant, as footage from the scenes in Istanbul show a heavy cloud of tear gas across much of the center of the city.