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Tear gas gives way to festivity in Turkey's Taksim Square (+video)

Protesters in Turkey celebrated their hold – for now – on Istanbul's Taksim Square. But it's unclear what will happen next in the anti-government movement. 

By Staff writer / June 2, 2013

Young Turkish protesters pose for a snapshot atop a burned police car, as protesters celebrate their seizure of central Taksim Square after two days of violent street battles with police in Istanbul, Turkey, on June 2. Initially a local protest over the fate of a park, it has broadened into anger over what are seen to be heavy-handed actions of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Islam-rooted Justice and Development Party.

Scott Peterson/Getty Images/CSMonitor

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Istanbul

Thousands of anti-government Turkish protesters turned Taksim Square into a must-see local tourism site today, posing on burned-out vehicles and barricades after two days of street battles, as the prime ministerial target of their anger defended his policies. 

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Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan dismissed the protests against his rule, saying he had “no words” for those who “call someone who has served the people a ‘dictator.’ ”

Mr. Erdogan said: “I am not the master of the people. Dictatorship does not run in my blood or in my character. I am the servant of the people.”

Tens of thousands of mostly secular protesters waged pitched battles with police, and finally seized control of Istanbul’s central Taksim Square on Saturday afternoon. What started as a small sit-in protest over the protection of trees in Gezi Park, due for demolition to make a shopping mall, turned into a wave of anger against what protesters see as Mr. Erdogan’s authoritarian rule.

In the exact spot where yesterday protesters choked by volleys of tear gas tried to wash their eyes of the sting, today they posed for photos of each other climbing on makeshift barricades with arms raised in triumph.

Uncertainty ahead

Despite the festive ambiance and proclamations of “victory” today, many questions remain about how this protest – conducted largely by a secular minority, against the decade-long leadership of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) – will change long-term politics in Turkey.

Also uncertain is whether even the coming days will see a peaceful resolution and calming of tension, or further eruptions of violence with police trying again to clear the square. Turkey’s Interior Ministry announced that nearly 1,000 arrests had been made, and that protests spread to dozens of cities in half of Turkey’s provinces. Violent clashes between police and protesters in the capital, Ankara, continued today, unabated.

“Our prime minister is like a fascist. He takes everything he wants, but we are standing up, we want our rights, and I am very happy for that because with this AKP government they have been pushed down,” says a middle-aged housewife named Derya, who was taking photos with her husband beside an overturned police car.

“Not now, there won’t be change. But if [Erdogan] insists, there will be many protests. It could be like World War I, which started with the death of just one person, and then spread into that war,” says Derya.

She says recent decisions by the Islamist-rooted AKP to rush through legislation limiting alcohol consumption, and lack of coverage of the protests on Turkish television, added to the unease. Derya also notes that the secular Turks on the streets now are not the majority who have elected Erdogan three times in a row – most recently in 2011 with nearly half the electorate.

“We have to protest, but we are a minority, not the majority. They try to buy people with money and a little food,” she says. She bristles at Erdogan’s description of those on the street as terrorists. 

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