Taksim Square returns to "normal", media goes quiet, and other news

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I published two articles today, one on Classless Magazine and another on Your Middle East. Classless has most of my photos.

According to reports from the Guardian and Hurriyet, Taksim Square has now been cleared of protesters, returning it to its normal state of being occupied by hundreds of police. Gassing and fighting with protesters on adjacent Recep Pasa Avenue continued long into the night. It's hard now, from my home in Yeni Levent, to figure out what is going on in Taksim, as the local media has gone suspiciously and ominously quiet.

But news continues to come in from last night, including images of a wheelchair-bound protester being hit by a water cannon, and allegations that the molotov-throwing protester of yesterday morning were undercover police officers. I'm not sure how plausible that is, especially given that protesters demonstrated their willingness to resort to violence (I saw one protester making off with an undetonated tear gas grenade, covertly showing it off to his friends), but I did catch this picture of plainclothes officers on the scene.

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Though it's not evidence of police involvement in the actions of protesters (I think the union would probably have something to say about allowing molotov cocktails to be used against their own officers), it does show that they were mingling in the protest for a large part of yesterday.

The violence of yesterday provided a lot of fodder for staunch opponents on either side. Police can now say with authority that much of their brutality is in self-defense, however dubiously, as protesters hurled rocks, bottles, and fireworks, and even set fire to a TOMA crowd control tank. Protesters can point to the brutality of the police repression, which used hundreds of canisters of tear gas (and also most definitely rubber bullets, however "unsure" the Turkish media may be) and resulted in hundreds of injuries.

It's a tenuous position for the protesters now. Erdogan has demonstrated that without EU officials in the country, he will ruthlessly put down protests he continues to see as illegitimate, not just in Istanbul but across the country. Uncompromising phrases are issuing from the mouths of his government's spokespeople and Istanbul Governor Hüseyin Avni Mutlu.

Many of the protesters' worst fears about yesterdays intervention, ostensibly to "remove banners", were true. The government was lying about their intentions -- they sought to retake Taksim Square fully and reestablish control of Istanbul's public space, leaving the easily controlled (although difficult to clear) Gezi Park to the protesters. A scheduled meeting between Erdogan and an 11-member negotiating team from Taksim Platform is unlikely to result in anything -- Erdogan has already demonstrated and repeatedly stated that he is not willing to compromise in any way.

Despite stressing repeatedly that Turkey is a democratic country in his criticisms of the foreign media, Erdogan has clamped down hard on criticism, arresting lawyers and Twitter users and fining media that do cover the protests for "harming the development of children".

For the past week has wildly lashed out at any and all who question his actions, including bank CEOs, opposition parties, and, of course, the media, alleging they are under the control of foreign powers. One Guardian columnist has drawn comparisons to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and he's not far off the mark, considering Erdogan plans a similar constitutional power grab with his candidacy for the presidency in 2014.

Istanbul's AKP supporter rally is scheduled for the 19th. Personally, I think Erdogan is hoping to have the protests completely cleared by then. That gives police a little over a week. We'll see what happens.

In other news on this quiet, rainy day in Istanbul:

  • In disturbing news, defense contractors have viewed the police crackdown in Taksim with dollar signs ringing in their eyes. Several sources speaking to Hurriyet have said they see a good opportunity to sell new, powerful technology to Erdogan's government, anticipating continuing unrest.
  • Protests in Ankara resulted in clashes between police and protesters for the fourth day in a row, marking a trend of harsh repression in the capital. I'm headed there this week...
  • In Iran, presidential elections are this Friday, and in good news for the West, the conservative vote is heavily divided while moderates have rallied behind reformist candidate Mohammed Khatami. Important conservative blocs are trying to convince some of the candidates to leave the field to give one of them a better chance.
  • Lebanon's political problems may result in an economic collapse, writes the Daily Star. This would add too their ongoing problems of sectarian violence and a chronic refugee problem from neighbouring Syria. Some commentators have earlier stated that Lebanon could be headed for another civil war.
  • Morocco is both in a political deadlock and out of the news. This good post on the New York Times' Latitude Blog from Ursula Lindsay, the intern at the Arabist, gives a good rundown of the political situation there, which has seen power concentrated in the hands of the king.

Also, these are my souvenirs from Taksim -- two tear gas canisters from Homer City, PA's "NonLethal Technologies". My girlfriend wants to turn them into flowerpots.

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