“Tayyip side of the Moon,” reads one piece of graffiti in this AP video taken in Istanbul earlier today. Another piece of graffiti on a bus window reads “Devil Tayyip,” also taken by the AP. Both show a certain measure of contempt for Turkey’s prime minister Tayyip Erdogan, and the feeling may be mutual. Erdogan ordered police to assault the barricades in Taksim Square and end the two-week-long standoff between the Islamist government and the Kemalist protesters:
CBS News has more:
Hundreds of police in riot gear forced through barricades in Istanbul’s central Taksim Square early Tuesday, pushing many of the protesters who had occupied the square for more than a week into a nearby park.
CBS News’ Holly Williams, who was at the scene, reports there was evidence of the widespread police use of tear gas and water cannons, prompting many of the protesters to flee the square into Gezi Park, where many had been camping. There were also strong signs that police had used rubber bullets, she says.
There were running battles at one edge of the square between police and some groups of protesters who fired fireworks, firebombs and stones at police water cannons. Police made frequent announcements through loudspeakers, asking the group to stop attacking police and saying they did not want to use tear gas, before then firing the tear gas. A water cannon could be seen dousing another police vehicle that was set alight by a firebomb.
There seems to be some confusion among government officials about what the police operation was intended to do:
Huseyin Avni Mutlu, the governor for Istanbul, said in a message issued on his Twitter account that the police operation was to dismount the banners hung on the building and at a monument on the square. He said people occupying the park at the square would not be touched.
As police clashed with activists near a side of the square where construction has already started, bulldozers and garbage trucks began cleaning up some of the barricades on the square. A group of protesters were seen at another corner of the square, apparently trying to negotiate with police.
Some protesters were seen trying to build another small barricade on the square but were repelled by tear gas.
This might solve the immediate problem for Erdogan, but it’s probably going to increase his long-term problems. It’s unclear why Erdogan chose this moment to act. According to CBS, the number of protesters had started to decline in Taksim, if not in Gezi Park, the source of the initial conflict. Routing the protesters now will probably inflame the population again. It’s practically a recruiting drive for Erdogan’s opposition. For a man whose fortunes already look shaky, the police assault is a strange move.