Police make arrests in Istanbul during May 1 protests

Iconic Taksim Square blocked off as Turkey's largest city hosts Labor Day demonstrations.

Police make arrests in Istanbul during May 1 protests

World Bulletin / News Desk

 A major police operation is underway in Istanbul amid May 1 Labor Day demonstrations in the city, the capital Ankara and other major locations across Turkey.

Thousands of extra officers have been deployed in Istanbul as trade unions and left-wing groups attempt to march to city's iconic Taksim Square.

However, as in recent years, Taksim -- a major interchange on Istanbul's European side and of symbolic importance for unions and leftists -- has been ruled out-of-bounds by the Turkish authorities.


Police reported a small number of detentions early Friday morning. Five people were held in the Okmeydani district, near Taksim, after officers claimed to have discovered gas masks and marbles.

Istanbul Police Department released a statement claiming that officers seized 101 Molotov cocktails plus chemicals, cartridges and organizational documents during investigations across six districts of the city late on Thursday.

However, an Istanbul lawyers' association said Friday that at least 80 demonstrators had been held. Associations united under the umbrella of the “May 1 Crisis Desk,” claimed the number of people detained could be as high as 150.

"Most of them were detained in Okmeydani, Besiktas, Zincirlikuyu and Sisli," the group claimed in a statement.

After noon, a small group of Turkish Communist Party activists entered Taksim Square -- which is blocked off by barriers -- before being pushed back by police.

Riot police dispersed a small group of demonstrators in Sisli using tear gas and water cannon on side streets, Anadolu Agency video footage shows.eanwhile, at least 30 members of the DISK union organized a sit-in on the district’s main street. Police called on them to disperse but the group resisted the call.

Kadikoy district on Istanbul's Asian side also saw some incidents between the security forces and members of a Turkish union, Egitim-sen, when police stopped a bus carrying activists to the city's European side.

Directing people to attend legal rally areas like Yeni Sali Pazari and Yenikapi, police dispersed the crowd. 

However, trade unionists reacted against the intervention. "Taksim is an icon for Labor Day in Turkey. I cannot dream of a May Day without Taksim Square" said Serif M., a 54-year-old retired teacher.

From Maltepe district, Serif said: "I am calling on both sides; there is no need to provoke. We just want to enjoy today without any trouble." 

"Kerim", a 32-year-old engineer attempting to reach Taksim told The Anadolu Agency: "According to me, May Day is not just a feast to celebrate, it is actually a day to mourn the killings of innocent people. They should respect our mourning." 

Thirty-eight years ago, dozens of people were killed when unknown gunmen opened fire on a Labor Day crowd, causing a stampede in the square.

May Day protests have previously been the catalyst for major street disorder in Istanbul and elsewhere in Turkey.

Unions gather

Many members of the Confederation of Revolutionary Trade Unions of Turkey, or DISK, the Confederation of Public Sector Trade Unions (KESK), the Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects (TMMOB) and the Turkish Medical Association (TBB) are in the Besiktas district on the European side, attempting to march to Taksim.

Some union members still are in the nearby Sisli district, where DISK’s headquarters is located, for a similar march attempt.

A statement from the DISK union Friday morning claimed that police were trying to disperse protesters in Besiktas.

Speaking to reporters, Kani Beko, DISK president, claimed that the freedom of Taksim Square was "a must for a free Turkey."

"We insist that Turkey will not be a democratic country unless Taksim is opened to workers' demonstrations to commemorate the murdered people in 1977," Beko said.

Taksim Square remained closed to Labor Day demonstrations between 1977 and 2010.

Since 2013, union activists have again been barred from marching to the public square. 

Unions have said that a ban on gathering at the iconic site contravenes both the Turkish constitution and European human rights legislation on freedom of assembly.

However, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday that the government always prioritises enhancing working conditions and protecting workers' rights. 

"May Day paves the way for voicing the problems of workers and discussing solutions," he said, adding: "I wish Labour Day will be lived in a celebratory mood and away from provocations."  

Symbolic memorial

Turkish Premier Ahmet Davutoglu has said Taksim Square is open for symbolic memorials.

In one such small-scale event, a major labor body -- the Confederation of Turkish Trade Unions -- laid a wreath at Taksim Square’s Republic Memorial and flowers on Kazanci Street on Friday morning.

After the memorial, Faruk Buyukkucak, the union's top official in Istanbul, said they felt “bittersweet joy” over May Day celebrations, adding that he called on officials to let demonstrators to celebrate at the square.

Members of the union marched to the site after obtaining necessary permission from the Istanbul Governorship and police, Buyukkucak told reporters.

Istanbul Governorship said Wednesday that the site would be off-limit to mass demonstrations. City Governor Vasip Sahin urged demonstrators to use "common sense."

"I celebrate all peoples', particularly the workers' Labor and Solidarity Day, hoping common sense, peace and brotherhood will dominate today" Sahin said Friday.

 Police leave cancelled, public transport affected

Istanbul police have made plans to keep groups out of the site. At least 10,000 police will be on duty in Istanbul while 7,000 other will be in Ankara as a part of security measures.

Additional police forces have been re-located to major cities, including Ankara and Istanbul.

Local newspapers reported that more than 60 water cannon would be on the streets to break up violent protests. Istanbul Governorship decided to close major streets leading to Taksim Square, which will be out-of-bounds to car traffic. Metro and tramway lines also will not be operational and ferry links will be affected.

Some labor unions have moved their celebrations out of Istanbul to prevent possible violent scenes.The TURK-IS union said it is going to celebrate May Day in Zonguldak, Turkey’s northern province, instead of Istanbul’s Kadikoy district where their event took place in 2014. Memur-sen union said its May Day rally would be in Konya, Turkey’s central province, while the Kamu-sen union said they would be in Adana, a southern province. 

PM slams opposition leader

Earlier, Prime Minister Davutoglu lashed out at pro-Kurdish opposition Peoples' Democratic Party leader Selahattin Demirtas for apparently comparing Istanbul's iconic Taksim Square to Islam's most sacred monument, the Kaaba in Mecca.

"We will never allow attributing an equivalent to the Kaaba, no matter which faith you are of," Davutoglu said Thursday during an election rally of his Justice and Development Party in Turkey’s central Nigde province.

Davutoglu was referring to Demirtas' remarks made during a commemoration ceremony in Taksim Square on Wednesday, where he said: "Taksim is as indispensable for workers as the Kaaba for Muslims and Jerusalem for Jews."

Güncelleme Tarihi: 01 Mayıs 2015, 14:25