What began innocently enough as a peaceful protest against a plan to transform a cherished green space in the heart of Istanbul has been transformed less than two days later into a political symbol of anti-government reaction by ordinary citizens.
Gezi Park was earmarked for a shopping centre project by authorities. But Prime Minister Recep Tazip Erdogan has faced heavy criticism for placing the country’s economic progress before everything else – including environmental concerns.
Critics and international observers also maintain that his Islamist-centred approach, which has seen the introduction of new restrictions on alcohol consumption, alongside press censorship and a creeping intolerance of dissent all point to a tightening and undemocratic grip on power.
This, they say, has now reached a climax, with the Gezi Park occupation simply the catalyst for widespread change. Certainly, it is the biggest threat to Erdogan’s leadership since he took the Prime Minister’s post in 2003 at the reins of the Justice and Development Party. Thousands across the country are calling for his resignation.
Euronews’ Istanbul correspondent Bora Bayraktar, himself injured in Friday’s protest, analysed the situation.
“The demonstrations will continue this weekend. They started against the urbanisation project, but now the character of the demonstrations has changed. Most are not just opposed to the project but are protesting against the behaviour of the government, which never takes the citizens’ point of view into account.”
He also noted distinctions between the demonstrators themselves. “The protesters are organised via social media.Only a few are militant protesters – most of them are ordinary people and they avoid the attacks between police and the rioters. So the majority of demonstrators are not rioters. It’s more like a movement of the people of Istanbul.”