ISTANBUL - Tens of thousands of protesters arrived and continued to stream Sunday afternoon into central Istanbul's Taksim Square, the site of a park that sparked violent demonstrations that have resonated across the country. Protestors from all walks of Turkish society were united in calling upon Turkish Prime Minister Reccep Tayyip Erdogan to resign. The main difference between Sunday and the previous days' demonstrations was the complete absence of police, who last week fired water cannons and thousands of tear-gas grenades toward the protestors.
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Following Erdogan's announcement on Saturday afternoon that the police would not confront the protestors, no one was there to stop the protestors on Sunday as they sang anti-Erdogan songs and sprayed the walls with obscene slogans denouncing him.
"It's hard to believe that Erdogan is being humiliated in this way," said one of the protesters. "This is a place where there is always high presence of police forces, especially during demonstrations. It's as if Erdogan has given up on Taksim."
The demonstrators represent a broad spectrum of Turkish political parties and movements. Many of the thousands arriving in the square carry flags with the picture of Mustafa Kamal Atatutk, the founder of the modern Turkish nation, accusing Erdogan's conservative Muslim ideology of betraying Ataturk's legacy. They march through the streets leading to Taksim crying "we are the soldiers of Mustafa Kamal" and singing nationalist songs. Other groups are expressing radical leftwing ideas, flying Communist and Marxist flags and signing anti-fascist partisan songs. Despite the demonstration being mainly secular in character, there is also a small group of protesters representing the "Revolutionary Muslims" movement who have taken over a shipping container and hung it with banners of Koran quotes condemning capitalism. The protests were born last week as demonstrations against plans to build a shopping mall on the site of Gezi Park in the heart of Taksim, and have spread to other cities as part of a broader protest against Erdogan.
Prime Minister Erdogan may have relinquished police control of Taksim for now but he remains steadfast in his intention to build over the site. In a speech on Sunday he said the project only called for "the stubbing of a dozen trees in order make Taksim more pedestrian-accessible." He accused the demonstrators of "burning, damaging the shops. Is this democracy?"
The demonstrators insist that their protest is non-violent, but some shops along Istiklal Boulevard, the main shopping area in central Istanbul leading to Taksim, have had their display windows smashed, especially those belonging to multi-national chains, bank branches and new shopping centers built over historic structures by businessmen who are thought to be close to the government.
The demonstrators are accusing most of the local news organizations, especially the television networks, of ignoring the widening protests in their broadcasts. They claim that the news channels are hiding the fact that among the hundreds of casualties resulting from the police's rough treatment are also a number of dead. Berk Karaman, a medic who treated the wounded in last week's demonstrations says that he witnessed a young man getting hit so hard by a high-powered water cannon that his neck broke, killing him instantly. "The police are attacking us even when we are standing and doing nothing," he said. "There have already been a number of deaths and the media is hiding this. We will continue on protesting until Erdogan pisses off."