ISTANBUL (AP) — Police on Saturday fired water cannon and tear gas in downtown Istanbul to disperse anti-government demonstrators after barring them from entering a park where they had hoped to celebrate the wedding of a couple who met during last month’s widespread protests.
The clash occurred after police closed Gezi Park near Istanbul’s landmark Taksim Square, then forced demonstrators to a pedestrian street and fired the water cannon, according to the private Dogan news agency. Police also chased some protesters down side streets and fired tear gas, according to the websites of Radikal and Hurriyet newspapers. No casualties were immediately reported.
The newly married couple and hundreds of protesters were later allowed into Gezi Park, where photographs were taken. But the crowd was soon again forced out of the park, apparently after it began to chant anti-government slogans.
The bride — who wore a white hard-hat over her bridal veil — said she’d met her betrothed a month earlier, during weeks of nationwide protests against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whom critics say has grown increasingly authoritarian during his decade in office.
The protests were sparked by a brutal police crackdown on a sit-in by environmentalists trying to prevent the uprooting of trees at Gezi to make way for the construction of a replica Ottoman-era barracks.
Turkish police have been criticized for their heavy-handed tactics in clamping down on the protests, including firing tear gas canisters directly at protesters as well as inside closed spaces. The hard-hat, worn by protesters as protection against the gas canisters and rubber bullets, has become a symbol of the protests.
Five people have died in the protests, including one person who was severely beaten in the head and another who was hit by a bullet fired by a police officer. Thousands of people were injured or affected by tear gas — among them a dozen who lost eyes after being hit by canisters.
Since June, there have been sporadic protests, but they’ve attracted fewer people.
The government meanwhile, has been arresting protest participants — including high school students or activists — on allegations of inciting unrest. One man was even arrested and charged for selling flags at the anti-government rallies.
Erdogan has dismissed the protesters as vandals, looters or terrorists, has defended the police and maintains the demonstrations are part of a conspiracy to topple his democratically-elected government.