Turkish riot police have stormed Taksim Square in Istanbul, breaking through barricades set up by protesters who have occupied the area for the last twelve days.
Images from earlier this morning show police firing tear gas and water cannon at hundreds of protesters who have been staging demonstrations against plans to redevelop the adjoining Gezi park.
Activists decked out in gas masks responded by throwing stones, fireworks and petrol bombs. Many have fled to Gezi Park where they have been camping. They reportedly chanted “Every place is Taksim, every place resistance.” It appears police have not entered the park.
Police removed protesters’ banners from a building overlooking the square and hung a single Turkish flag and picture of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey.
Istanbul Governor Huseyin Avni Mutlu said the police had no intention of breaking up the protest in Gezi Park.
“Our aim is to remove the signs and pictures. We have no other aim,” he wrote on Twitter.
Turkish media are reporting that police are saying to protesters: “Don’t throw stones at us and we won’t use water cannon and tear gas.”
It comes just after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdodan agreed to meet protest leaders on Wednesday. Commentators said it wasa deliberate show of force that may jeopardise the talks.
It was the violent police response to peaceful demonstrations on May 31 which attracted many protesters to form a broader anti-government movement. Many have been calling for the prime minister’s resignation. They are also angry at what they see as the imposition of conservative Islamic values on a secular state under his leadership.
The police had left the park on June 1 following violent clashes which drew criticism from the West. At least three people have died and more than 5,000 have been injured since the protests began.