Istanbul prepares for tense May 1 Labor Day

Following unions’ insistence to celebrate the May 1 celebrations in under-construction Taksim Square, a set of measures have been passed and transport will stop in many places.

Istanbul prepares for tense May 1 Labor Day

World Bulletin/News Desk

As some unions insist “We are at Taksim on May 1,” the Istanbul Governor responded "going to Taksim is strictly forbidden."  While both sides appeared very adamant, measures similar to “curfews” were announced. Many forms of public transportation from ferries to the subway, from the Metro Bus to bus services will not be operating on May 1.

After trade unions announced they will celebrate Labor and Retirement Day on May 1 in Taksim, the Istanbul Security Directorate announced the closed roads and canceled routes in a written statement.

For days, there has been an exchange of words between labor unions and authorities over May Day celebrations due to the government's decision to close Taksim Square to a mass demonstration this May 1 on the grounds that the area is not physically suitable to host a large number of people due to the current pedestrianization project. The government fears that the construction site may place the lives of the demonstrators at risk.

The heart of the May 1 celebrations have always taken place in İstanbul's busiest square, Taksim, which, until 2010, was off-limits to May 1 demonstrators following May Day 1977, also known as Bloody May Day, when 37 people were killed after unknown assailants opened fire on the crowd. Since then, May Day in Turkey has always been a source of tension.

However, the government decided to declare May Day an official holiday in 2009 and opened Taksim Square up for celebrations. About three decades after Bloody May Day, under tight security, Taksim Square became the venue of peaceful celebrations aside from a few minor incidents in 2010, 2011 and 2012. Yet, Turkey has returned to the same debates on Taksim for this year's May 1. On Tuesday, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan reiterated earlier remarks by authorities who said trade unions will not be allowed to celebrate May Day in Taksim due to construction, saying he expects understanding from labor unions.

“All measures will be taken there [in Taksim] tomorrow by the Interior Ministry and we will not allow such a celebration there. … I expect understanding from labor unions, not persistence, on behalf of my nation,” Erdoğan said, addressing his Justice and Development Party (AK Party) deputies in a parliamentary group meeting.

The prime minister also complained that the insistence of some circles to hold May Day celebrations in Taksim, given the fact that these celebrations could not be held in the country for the past three decades, makes him think that their move is against his government. Erdoğan also held a meeting with representatives from labor unions on Monday evening who insist on holding a May Day rally in Taksim and asked them to use Kazlıçeşme Square in the city's Zeytinburnu district for the mass celebration.

“If you cannot control the masses, some people may break the barriers and may fall into the construction area. In such a case, we [the government] will be held responsible,” Erdoğan said. İstanbul Governor Hüseyin Avni Mutlu also once again said on Tuesday that no mass celebrations will be allowed in the square due to the current pedestrianization project in the area. He said only a symbolic event held by a small group will be allowed, but the gathering of a huge crowd in the area is impossible. “Permission for the May Day celebrations in Taksim is out of the question,” Mutlu told reporters in Taksim's Gezi Park.

He was accompanied by İstanbul Police Chief Hüseyin Çapkın. Mutlu said all the necessary measures were taken in Taksim against a demonstration on Wednesday, adding that he hopes İstanbulites will not join in a demonstration that is planned to be held in such a risky area. The governor explained that only representatives from labor unions will be allowed to lay wreaths at Kazancı Hill at the beginning of İstiklal Street, to commemorate the victims of 1977, but a mass demonstration will not take place in Taksim. “Marginal groups may lead to trouble. We will implement our measures to this effect with determination. No matter what we say, marginal groups will try to come to this area. They are 3,000, 4,000 people… We have already taken the necessary measures against them. We will take the necessary action against them,” added Mutlu.

Taksim Square carries significant symbolic import in May Day celebrations. On May 1, 1977, 34 people were killed during a Labor Day gathering at the square after shots were fired into the crowd from a nearby building, leading to an intervention by security forces and armored vehicles. Most of the casualties resulted from the panic caused by the intervention, which took place among hundreds of thousands of participants. The perpetrators of the shooting were never found, and following the incident, Taksim Square was closed to May Day celebrations. The event is considered the beginning of the period of turmoil and chaos that brought Turkey to the 1980 military coup. The military coup government prohibited May Day celebrations.

In 2009, the government decided to declare May Day an official holiday and opened Taksim Square for celebrations. Over three decades after the 1977 events, known as Bloody May Day, Taksim Square -- under tight security -- became the venue of peaceful celebrations, aside from a few minor incidents in 2010.


Last Mod: 30 Nisan 2013, 17:37
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