As protesters attempted to march on Istanbul’s Taksim Square during today’s May Day demonstrations, riot cops fired rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannons, while protesters threw objects at the police.
Authorities had blocked access to Taksim and shut down some of Istanbul’s public transport, but unions continued to insist on their right to gather there to mark International Workers Day.
The square has a particular significance for Turkish labor groups as 34 people were killed there at a May Day event in 1977 when gunmen fired into the crowd. More recently, it became a focal point for the anti-government Gezi Park demonstrations.
“Since the Gezi protests, we as a Turkish society, especially young people, started to go out into the streets [to demand] our rights,” Esin Bozovali, a law student who protested today told VICE News. “Taksim has an historical and symbolic meaning for the working class in Turkey, so the unions and other political parties want to walk and protest there [but] closing it is also against the law, human rights, and the constitution.”
She added that while she was not a trade union member, she wanted to be on the streets on a day which she described as a symbol of “freedom and resistance.”
“We wanted to be with the unions to take our rights back from the government by standing together against the police and their power,” she said. “Young people, working class people, LGBT people, women, and university students all came together today to demand our rights."
Video posted by a journalist at the scene showed water cannon trucks being used on protesters. Protesters told VICE News that police acted quickly to disperse gathering groups, making it impossible to reach Taksim en masse.
Turkish protesters defying a May Day ban rallied on Taksim square in Istanbul.
Local media reported that tear gas use in the city’s Besiktas district was so heavy that local families were evacuated from their homes.
Protesters responded to the police attacks by throwing rocks and fireworks as well using slingshots to fire projectiles at cops.
Security was tight, with 40,000 police deployed and much of the city center shut off. Riot cops were backed up by the usual selection of water canon trucks and armored vehicles. However today also saw the surprise deployment of some new portable steel walls, which local English language newspaper Hurriyet Daily said are equipped with cameras and can spray tear gas at protesters who get too shovey with them.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had warned protesters not to attempt to reach Taksim Square, but in a joint statement released yesterday the main trade unions pledged to be there no matter what.
Demonstrations were also held elsewhere in the country, including the capital of Ankara, as May Day protests and celebrations took place around the world.
Others ended nastily too. In Phnom Penh, Cambodia, security forces dispersed protesters with sticks and batons, injuring at least five.
Meanwhile, over 100,000 Russians took part in a huge parade in Moscow's Red Square. The intensely nationalistic gathering was the first of its kind since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union and some workers brandished banners with slogans of support for President Vladimir Putin and Russia's annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in March.
Photos by Ayman Oghanna