For the fourth day in a row, violent protests erupted across Turkey over the fate of a public park and a prime minister who many have lost his way — and the unrest has now claimed the life of at least one person.
Turkish police fired tear gas at protestors who were gathered in Istanbuls's Taksim Square for a fourth consecutive day on Monday, as similar clashes popped up in other cities around the country. About 1,000 protestors were hit with tear gas and water cannons by police in Ankara, Turkey's capital, after they gathered in the city's Kizilay Square. The protests seemed to calm down Saturday after police retreated from the Square. But things picked up again on Sunday after police returned, teargas and all, to clash with protestors. Mehmet Ayvalıtaş, a 20-year-old political activist, was killed during the protests after a cab driver tried to drive through a group of protestors, despite warnings to turn around.
The citizens' anger was originally sparked over Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's plans to build an Ottoman-era barracks on the site of Istanbul's Gezi Park, the last public park in the industrialized city. (Fueling the anger: the widely held assumption the barracks would eventually hold a shopping mall.) But as many have explained in the aftermath of the now deadly protests, the clashes between the government and its people have to do with much more than just a mall. It's about the last decade of Erdogan's rule, the increasingly non-secular positions he's been adopting in the democratic country, and the struggle of the working class versus the country's elite. The New York Times' Tim Arango explains:
In full public view, a long struggle over urban spaces is erupting as a broader fight over Turkish identity, where difficult issues of religion, social class and politics intersect. And while most here acknowledge that every Turkish ruling class has sought to put its stamp on Istanbul, there is a growing sense that none has done so as insistently as the current government, led by Mr. Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party, despite growing resistance.
Turkey has seen a "rabid urbanization," as the Guardian's Peter Beaumont puts it, as citizens move from rural areas into larger cities like Ankara and Istanbul. But the protestors still reject the government's plans to build as many skyscrapers as possible at the cost of destroying the cities' dwindling, remaining green spaces.
Meanwhile, Ergodan is doing his best to antagonize protestors at every turn. This morning he took a page out of the book of Bashar Al-Assad, his friend and former ally. "This is a protest organized by extremist elements," Erdogan told reporters Monday morning. "Be calm, relax," he told his country. "All this will be overcome." Then he left for a planned trip to Monaco.