Anti-government protester dies in southern Turkey

ISTANBUL Tue Sep 10, 2013 6:19am EDT

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ISTANBUL (Reuters) - A Turkish protester died at a demonstration in the southeastern city of Antakya on Tuesday against police handling of nationwide anti-government protests this summer, but the cause of his death was in dispute.

Ahmet Atakan, 22, had been taking part in a sit-in protest with about 40 other people in Antakya near the border with Syria, Hasan Akgol, a lawmaker from the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), told Reuters by telephone.

The group was protesting the deaths of four activists who died in June and July during large-scale protests against Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's style of rule and some of his policies after 10 years in office, Turkish media reported.

They were also expressing support for recent protests in the capital Ankara against two controversial building projects planned by the government, Akgol said.

Akgol was at the scene where Atakan died and said he had two head wounds. "His death was caused by a weapon," he said.

However, the governor's office issued a statement on its website saying that police had reported Atakan had fallen from a building to his death.

Turkish media said protesters had thrown stones from rooftops at police vans passing on the street below.

Broadcaster CNN Turk reported accounts that Atakan had been struck in the head with a teargas canister. Its video footage showed a man rolling on the ground as an armored police vehicle moved past.

"The real issue here is that he was trying to peacefully express dissent when police, who are under the state's control, used excessive force to restrict his freedom of expression," Akgol said.

Erdogan's government has faced intermittent protests since late May, when a small environmental effort to stop the demolition of an Istanbul park ballooned into the country's fiercest protests in decades.

The demonstrations have largely cooled but occasional protests continue in Istanbul, Ankara and Hatay.

Tensions remain high in Hatay, a province of mixed ethnicities and religions that borders Syria, especially in recent weeks as the United States contemplate strikes against President Bashar al-Assad.

Thousands of Syrian refugees shelter in Hatay. In May, it was the scene of a car-bomb attack that killed 53 people that Erdogan blamed on Syrian intelligence.

Atakan is the third person from Hatay to die since June in anti-government protests.

Another protester died in the capital Ankara, and one in Istanbul, where the demonstrations began. A police officer fell to his death in Adana while pursuing protesters.

More than 8,000 people were injured in May, June and July at the height of the protests, according to a Turkish medical association.

(Reporting by Ayla Jean Yackley; editing by Ralph Boulton)

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