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    Calm in Turkey after clashes at major city May Day celebrations

    Hurriyet English with wires
    01.05.2008 - 06:48 | Son Güncelleme:

    Turkish police fired pepper spray and water cannons to prevent crowds gathered to celebrate May Day in Istanbul from marching to Taksim Square where they planned to hold a mass gathering. A total of 530 demonstrators were detained by police, with 38 reported injured in Istanbul, the governor announced. Later in the day, peaceful May 1 celebrations in the capital Ankara turned ugly as police and demonstrators clashed. (UPDATED)

    Police wearing gas masks first broke up a crowd which had gathered in front of the DISK office in Istanbul’s central business and residential Sisli district with the intention of walking to Taksim.

    The Turkish government had insisted on its rejection to lift the decades-long ban and open Taksim for celebrations, citing security concerns, taking extra ordinary security measures stationing thousands of police across the city.  

    In the days leading up to the May Day celebrations, Turkey’s leading labor unions, representing some 3 million workers, reaffirmed their vow to celebrate May Day peacefully in Taksim with an estimated 500,000 people. 

    Police, blocking all the streets leading to Taksim, broke up groups of workers trying to enter the square through various alternative routes, firing tear gas and beating some demonstrators with clubs.

    Some demonstrators were seen throwing rocks at police. Journalists and people trying to get to work were also affected by the tear gas fired at the demonstrators.

    The unions ended the march in the Sisli district of Istanbul stating that they did not want to be seen as the government’s provocation mechanism.

    Labor Unions Confederation (DISK) Chairman Suleyman Celebi said that together with Confederation of Public Sector Unions (KESK) Chairman Ismail Hakki Tombul and Turkish Confederation of Labor (Turk-Is) Secretary General Mustafa Turkel, they decided not to push workers towards Taksim Square for a colossal meeting.         

    "Now we are ending the celebrations with common sense, because we don’t want to be seen as the government’s provocation mechanism," Celebi told reporters on Thursday. "We wanted to gather in Taksim (square) to express our demands with an enthusiastic festival. Now, all squares and the whole Turkey have become Taksim," he said.

    The governor of Istanbul, Muammer Guler announced that 38 people were injurdd and 530 demonstrations had been detained at the Istanbul rally. The Istanbul Crisis Center had announced that six police were reportedly injured.

    However, Tombul told ANKA that nearly 900 union members had been detained during the demonstrations. 

    A group of demonstrators later made their way to Taksim’s Istiklal Street where police used pepper spray and water cannons to disperse them.

    Brief scuffles erupted between police and a group from the leftist Freedom and Solidarity Party (ODP) during the mostly peaceful May Day celebrations in the capital Ankara's, Sihhiye Square. Police used pepper spray and batons to disperse the crowd.  At least one demonstrator was hospitalized.

    Turkey banned May Day celebrations in Taksim Square after 36 people were killed on May 1, 1977; a date since referred to as the "Bloody May 1." This event is seen as a turning point in Turkish history and an important factor that paved the way for the military coup in 1980. Still-unidentified armed men opened fire on the crowd of some 1-million-people attending the celebrations. The clashes between left and right political groups in the 1970s had brought Turkey to the brink of civil war.

    DISK last year attempted to breach the ban and hold celebrations in Taksim. But clashes erupted between the demonstrators and police forces, wounding tens of people. Some 1,000 people were taken into custody in 2007.

    The Turkish government has decided to celebrate May Day as "Labor and Solidarity Day," but declined to declare it a national public holiday.

    Observers say the Turkish government is reluctant to lift the ban due to concerns that it could turn into a mass anti-AKP rally over the controversial social security law.

     

     

     

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