After more than a week of absence police arrived at Taksim Square this morning shortly after 7am local. This offensive prompted a day of battles in central Istanbul, which continues as midnight approaches. Reuben & Gielty filed this dispatch using a phone.
They came in large numbers – probably more than a thousand in the morning, definitely more than that by afternoon. Their stated objective, endorsed by the Prime Minister, was to retake the square and “restore the image of the nation”.
The mayor of Istanbul and police on the ground issued promises that they would not move on Gezi Park itself.
The main square and previously-occupied Ataturk Cultural Centre were reclaimed early and have remained mainly in police hands. One exception to this was when protestors flooded into metro square after 12 o’clock as police rearmed with tear gas. This was dispersed by a major police offensive at about 1.
The battles for metro square also saw police enter Gezi Park itself, in breach of their commitments, firing tear gas and sending in ground forces. But at the time of writing Gezi remained in protestors’ hands.
Barricades around Taksim were removed early morning, with police also dumping large amounts of political banners that had adorned the square.
One area where barricades remained was the Tarlabasi side of Gezi Park – where fighting was at its most intense during the day. In early morning a number of molotovs were thrown at TOMAs from here, although protestors argue this was the work of provocateurs.
The street battles in this area, which is an open building site, were fierce. At their height police used rubber bullets and fired pepper spray from water canons. Protestors built enormous barricades and responded from behind them with all sizes of rocks and fireworks.
As reports of injured came through – 14 serious head traumas alone in the park’s medical centre by 5pm – Taksim Solidarity issued a defiant statement and asked protestors to come to the park at 7pm. They also condemned the arrest of lawyers representing protestors, 50 of whom were arrested at the Istanbul courthouse at lunch time.
Tens of thousands marching up Istiklal again for the protest at 7pm. But the police mounted a serious offensive at about 7.30, tear gas filled the air for kilometres around. They pursued protestors down the Main Street and side streets, firing rounds of gas at groups of people – often trying to find shelter.
By 8.30 protestors had been forced back behind Balyoz, although fighting continued in the square itself. The police then retreated to rearm, allowing huge crowds to regroup and march towards the square again.
This saw a stand off at the top of Istiklal, with the police firing volleys of gas canisters on a regular basis. Their heaviest attacks saw hundreds wretching, vomiting and struggling to breathe.
As midnight approached images emerged online of clashes in other parts of the city. A crowd assembled in Gazi Mahellesi and began marching to Taksim. Clashes were expected to continue into tomorrow.This article was written pseudonymously by Irish journalists Ronan Burtenshaw and Tommy Gavin because of safety concerns.