Near Istanbul Soccer Pitch Where Teams Do Battle, Protesters Clash With Police

Violent confrontations near Istanbul's Besiktas soccer stadium led to dozens of casualties Sunday. Some of the young demonstrators didn't seem clear on their goal, but came along for the ride anyway.

Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer
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Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer

ISTANBUL – Street battles in the Besiktas neighborhood Sunday night presented a different picture than the carnival of democratic protest broadcast around the world from the nearby Taksim Square. Young protestors hurled rocks and metal bars at police officers who fired back tear gas and water cannons, causing dozens of casualties.

While the international media focused in recent days on the confrontation between police and demonstrators around Gezi Park in Taksim Square and then on the mass festival that developed there since the police evacuated the area on orders of Prime Minister Reccep Tayyip Erdogan, in other spots in Turkey, the clashes continued with both sides, protestors and police, using outright violence. A central flashpoint was a short walk from Taksim, on the main road leading to the western bank of the Bosphorus, by the Besiktas soccer stadium.

Friction there began around 9 P.M., when thousands of mainly young protesters tried to breach the police barriers on the road leading to the Dolmabahce Palace, where Erdogan's Istanbul offices are situated. The youngsters did not represent any particular party and unlike the demonstrations in Taksim, did not carry placards or banners with political messages. They uprooted hundreds of paving stones and metal fences to build barricades on the roads leading back to Taksim and between them and the police barricades, a pitched street battle was waged for hours for control of the road.

The protesters, many of them wearing gas masks or scarves wrapped around their heads, tried to push the police down the road carrying a large section of a metal fence in front of them, under fire of water cannons and tear-gas grenades. On their way, some engaged in vandalism smashing advertisement boards and toppling road signs.

For about two hours, they succeeded in pushing back the police to the crossroads and down Dolmabahce Street, until they got a few hundred meters from the palace. At this point the police intensified the volleys of tear gas and the youngsters were forced back to the crossroads, carrying with them dozens of casualties from gas inhalation, head injuries caused by falling tear gas and trampled in the stampede.They were taken to a makeshift first-aid station set up in the adjacent mosque by volunteer doctors and medics. A thick screen was placed over the mosque's entrance to prevent tear gas from seeping in.

Towards midnight, thousands began to disperse, leaving behind a few hundred diehards to continue confronting police. Many of the young protestors admitted that they had little idea what they were protesting, though they joined in the cries calling on the government to resign. "We are here because we are bored," laughed Arlen, a high school student who, holding hands with her friends, looked on from a relatively safe point. Barkhan, a young man who was in the front line against the police chanting "shoulder to shoulder against fascism" offering a different perspective. "Of course we are protesting against police violence," he said, "but there is a ridiculous situation here when some of the guys here are using too much violence against the police."

By 1 A.M., the fighting had almost ended, when protesters managed to fire up a large mechanical excavator and began driving it towards the palace. It was blocked in a minute by police riot-control vehicles and the remaining protestors fled, leaving in their wake devastation and high barricades on the roads to Taksim.

Protesters at a demonstration at Taksim Square in central Istanbul June 3, 2013. Credit: Reuters

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