Police fire tear gas, detain 200, in Istanbul May Day scuffles

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkish police fired tear gas and water cannon and detained more than 200 people after scuffles broke out at May Day celebrations in Istanbul and some anti-government protesters tried to breach a ban on access to the main Taksim square.

Security was tight across Turkey’s biggest city, which was hit twice this year by attacks blamed on Islamic State. Around 24,500 members of the security forces were deployed for the May Day celebrations, according to the Istanbul governor’s office. Police scanned the streets from helicopters overhead.

“Some illegal groups who want to damage the peace and safety of our people attempted illegal marches and demonstrations primarily around Taksim square ... under the pretext of May Day celebrations,” the governor’s office said.

“A total of 207 people have been detained and some 40 Molotov cocktails, 17 hand grenades, 176 fireworks ... and lots of illegal posters have been seized,” it said.

A 57-year old man was killed when he was run over by a police water truck while trying to cross the street, broadcaster CNN Turk reported. The governor’s office said he was struck as the vehicle was maneuvering.

Taksim square was home to May Day celebrations until 1977, when dozens of people were killed during demonstrations, dubbed the ‘bloody May Day’. The square was reopened for celebrations in the late 2000s but was shut again in 2013.

It became the main rallying point for 2013 anti-government protests in which tens of thousands of people demonstrated against President Tayyip Erdogan, then the prime minister.

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A usually bustling square lined with cafes and hotels, Taksim was entirely cordoned off on Sunday and filled with riot and plain clothes police. Public transport leading to the neighborhood was shut down.

Thousands of people attended celebrations in a designated area in Bakirkoy district near the airport. The mood was bittersweet with many people criticizing the government for keeping Taksim off limits.

“Nobody has guns or bombs. People will come and express themselves, but the state prevents them even from coming to the area they allocated,” union member Fatma Akaltu said.

Brief brawls erupted in Bakirkoy, where police detained several supporters of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) after they chanted “Long Live Kurdistan”.

Additional reporting and writing by Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Nick Tattersall, Larry King