In Turkey, May 1st, is labour day. I am currently residing in Istanbul and teaching English for a couple of months. Due to the public holiday, yesterday was a vacation for all schools and many businesses. I received an email, late in the evening the night before declaring that, “All public transportation is suspended from 05:00 am on and there is no information about how long that suspension will be.” For fear of clashes, the Turkish government closed public transport for the holiday in an attempt to stop people reaching Taksim Square where they feared that unions were attempting to organise a protest.
I live close to Taksim, the unofficial centre of Istanbul. As I stood in my apartment, I heard shouting outside and ran to my balcony to see hundreds of protestors marching towards the square and chanting. Despite being warned to stay away, I was interested to see what happened and an hour later, I headed to Taksim to investigate.
The clashes resulted in violence after demonstrators tried to break through police barriers in order to reach Taksim. The police released water cannons and tear gas into the crowd, while also making 72 arrests. At least 28 people were injured in the confusion and police later reported 22 police injuries after stones and fireworks were thrown into the police ranks.
The government cited renovation work as the reason for closing the square (according to the BBC). While I have heard some ridiculous things in Turkey and some blatant lies, this is one of the most ridiculous things that I have heard. I tried to get to Taksim square myself, but I was stopped by the police, several hundred metres short. Here are a few photos of the streets of Istanbul yesterday.
Notice the deserted streets, people carrying gas masks in anticipation of tear gas, and the heavily armed police who made blockades across my area. While seeing police in Istanbul has been commonplace for me, I am used to seeing hundreds. Yesterday, there were thousands.