ISTANBUL May 31 Turkish police on Saturday shut
Gezi Park, the Istanbul square at the centre of mass
demonstrations in 2013, to prevent any efforts to mark the
anniversary of the biggest anti-government protests in decades.
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, who was the target of many
protesters' ire last year, warned people to stay out of Taksim
Square, which adjoins the park, saying security forces would do
whatever is necessary to keep the area clear.
Riot police circled the perimeter of Gezi, and hundreds of
plainclothes officers carrying batons patrolled Istiklal, a
major shopping street that leads to Taksim as well as a popular
There was no sign of unrest at midday. Taksim Solidarity,
one of the main organisers of last year's protest movement,
called for a rally at Taksim at 7 p.m. (1600 GMT).
On May 31, 2013, police forcefully evicted environmentalists
from Gezi Park who had staged a peaceful sit-in for several days
to try to stop government plans to raze the green space and
build a shopping mall.
Angered by the use of violence, tens of thousands of people
from a variety of political backgrounds descended on Gezi and
occupied Taksim Square for about two weeks before authorities
finally cleared the space. Many complained of what they saw as
growing authoritarianism after Erdogan's decade in office.
Six people including one police officer died in the
demonstrations, which had spread to other major Turkish cities,
and another half-dozen or so others have lost their lives in
related protests in the ensuing months.
"Our security forces have clear orders. They will do
whatever is necessary from A to Z," Erdogan said at a ceremony
in Istanbul that was broadcast live by the NTV news channel.
Elif Cetinkaya, 45, and her family gathered across the
street from Gezi Park on Saturday, wearing T-shirts with the
images of those killed in the 2013 unrest.
"Why did so many people have to die to save this park? We
are here to mourn their loss and show that we stand firm, no
matter what obstacles they erect," Cetinkaya said.
Smaller demos have erupted in Taksim and other parts of
Istanbul sporadically since last June but none have been near
the scale of the first two weeks of protests at the square.
The protest movement appeared to have little impact on the
ruling AK Party's political fortunes when it handily won
national municipal elections in March.
But Gezi Park remains a park, one of the few green spaces in
central Istanbul, Europe's biggest city.
Newspapers said 25,000 officers had been deployed on
Saturday. Police thronged the residential district of Cihangir,
relaxing in parking lots and at cafes as a light rain fell.
The metro station at Taksim was also closed to travellers,
as were boulevards that lead to the square.
Ferryboat services between Istanbul's shores on either side
of the Bosphorus Strait were also cancelled on orders of the
governor's office, the city ferry line said on its website.
(Editing by Mark Heinrich)