The Battle over Turkey's 'Tahrir Square' Continues
Gezi Park in Istanbul, from which national demonstrations against Islamist rule began, had been closed since police forcefully evicted the protestors (chapulcular, in Turkish) a couple of weeks ago. The municipality meanwhile quickly moved in, fixed the walls, planted new trees, lots of new flowers, and beautified the park in general.
During those activities the park was closed to the public. When it was all done the governor of Istanbul announced that it would be open to the public again last Sunday.
Saturday night people, (the chapulcular) wanted to gather together at Taksim Square. But police blocked all the streets leading to the square, so no one could get there. That included stopping the underground metro service to the square. Then the governor said the opening ceremony would be held on Monday, July 8. The authorities opened the park all right but again closed it to the public.
Within hours chapulcular started getting together there. Police again intervened and evicted them, closing the park once more, despite the fact that no banners, no tents, and no organized actions took place, just a crowd gathering.
Meanwhile, because the park closure and demonstrations have hurt business by nearby stores, some fights have broken out between chapulcular and business owners around Taksim. In a nod encouragement for attacks, a ruling party official said that the business owners have a right to defend themselves, with the implication that force was an acceptable way to do so...
The closure of the park is in clear violation of the constitution which says, “People have the right to assemble and voice grievances in public places, without any prior permission from any authority.”
It is rumored (and believed to be true) that since the holy month of Ramadan is starting, the municipality had planned to set up large tents to distribute “iftar” dinners to the public. This has been done every year in many parts of Istanbul but never at Taksim Square before. Such tactics have been used before in other parts of Istanbul to remove cafes selling alcohol and other “secular” activities.
But since such tents are open to everyone, there is a problem. To keep the chapulcular away, there is a proposal circulating that those who want “iftar” dinner have to apply to the municipality or the AKP ruling party first, and get an admission card.
In other words, the battle continues in which the Turkish government is trying to close down the country’s equivalent of Tahrir square.