a foreign friend of mine asked for an explanation of the riots; I wrote this, maybe it's interesting to others, I've tried to avoid exaggeration, and to stick to things I know personally
what it's about:
- years of an increasingly authoritarian government with an ineffective opposition
- a PM who is arrogant, pig-headed and despises anyone except conservative Muslims (roughly half the country which is partly why he wins elections), and who simply does not listen to people who think differently from him
- a corrupt and nepotistic system where all the main checks and balances of a democracy are brought / bought under government patronage / influence / control
- as a result there is a great deal of frustration and loathing of the government, of the PM especially
- Istanbul has the lowest % of parks of any city in Europe
- the only central park is a pitifully small park called Gezi Park near where we live
- the PM decided himself to rebuild an Ottoman building which once stood in the park and which had been pulled down by Atatürk; the building has symbolic value for the PM; it's an order from the PM to the mayor of Istanbul who is a lickspittle member of the ruling party; there's been no public enquiry or consultation about this plan, or any other redevelopment plan for Istanbul for that matter (and there have been many awful ones and there are many more in the pipeline)
- last week work started to cut down trees on one side of the park, preparing the ground for the new-old building (the government's story is a bit different about the reason but no-one believes them)
- a group of about 300 mostly women green activists occupied the park last week under the name of 'Occupy'; they are totally committed to peaceful protest (I know one of the organisers and she is very determined about this)
- on Thursday morning the police raided the camp at 5am without any warning using teargas and burned the tents and sealed off the whole park behind barricades
- on Friday morning the police attacked unprovoked a small group (a few hundred if that) protesters near the park with teargas, I was there, subsequently a friend of ours (Lobna Allamii) was struck in the head by a teargas canister and is still in a coma, other people have been also badly injured (see these pictures for example http://occupygezipics.tumblr.com)
- by Friday afternoon thousands of people had arrived from all over Istanbul and the battles began
- by yesterday they had gotten very ugly, and literally hundreds of thousands of protesters were now converging on Taksim and some other areas, by now including a proportion of people ready to use violence, though always a minority
- the President gave the order for the police to withdraw (smart move, it was obvious that things were about to escalate and heaven knows where things would have ended up)
- some of the demonstrators trashed some vehicles in and around the squares, and built barricades (still up) using anything they could get their hands on all roads leading to Taksim and Gezi Park (they're next to each other); mostly the barricades were made from police barricades taken from the Park, along with some wrecked public buses which had been used to bring the police to Taksim
- today was a big party in the Park and Taksim with many thousands of people celebrating their victory over the State
- in the meantime the PM has said I am not dropping the project and the State will retaliate, also in the meantime the courts have ordered a stop to the building project in the Park saying that it's illegal, the PM says that the courts are interfering...
this is a summary
there's been a lot of conflict in other cities too; I've seen some videos and police behaviour has been generally vicious and shameful
what happened in the Park was the trigger, the Park itself is symbolic, or rather it has become symbolic, a red line which now cannot be crossed
what happens next, no-one knows, the greens will continue their occupation of the Park until the building project is officially cancelled, but who knows if cancellation will happen, the PM has a great deal of power and is a very stubborn man who calls all (sic) the protesters 'extremists'