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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. 

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They are the terrorists, the police,” says Derya. “The government does terrorism to us. Everyone should have their rights.”

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Street party atmosphere

Taksim today resembled a street party, with chants against “fascism,” waving of Turkish and opposition party flags, and denunciations of police tactics that left sizable and affluent neighborhoods repeatedly swathed in tear gas.

Families pushed children in strollers next to burned vehicles for a photo opportunity. Young Turks clamored atop smashed buses. Other protesters – some still wearing surgical masks and with goggles around their necks, like badges of participation in the tear gas-soaked revolt – climbed on the makeshift barricades that blocked every entrance to the square.

In some places, volunteers with trash bags collected every scrap of garbage from the square, and an adjacent construction site.

In a speech and interviews, Erdogan sought to portray the protests as ideologically motivated against him, and not about trees, claiming that as the former mayor of Istanbul and then premier, he had overseen the planting of 2 billion trees and creation of 160 national parks – and that he was “still planting.”

Erdogan also stated that he would complete a controversial mosque project in Taksim: “I am not going to seek the permission of the [opposition] or a handful of plunderers,” he said.

The prime minister asked why people were revolting: “Did we take your democratic and voting rights away?” He called Twitter and social media a “menace” to society, and vowed that the development project of Gezi Park – removal of a tree-lined park to make way for shops built into a new facade of an Ottoman barracks, which sparked the protest, would continue.

“We are living in a historical moment; we don’t know what will happen because we have never been here before,” says Eda, a history student at Bogazici University.

“As Turkish youth, we have been sleeping since the AKP came, for more than 10 years, and now we are just awake,” says Eda, who asks that only her first name be used. “For 10 years we knew what was happening, but only commented. I don’t know what fueled us, but now we are acting.”

Don't call it a Spring

She and others dislike comparisons between Turkey’s protest and the Arab Spring uprisings that toppled autocrats in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya in 2011. Those were distinctly Arab events, they say, while Turkey’s protest is about more inclusive democratic leadership.

“This is the radicalism of the moment,” Eda says, pointing to a nearby police car, where other students cavorted and took photos of themselves, as if on a new playground toy. “This is not the consensus. It’s just a show.”

Passersby also kicked at the overturned satellite van of Turkish NTV news, while one man banged at the satellite set-up with a wrench. One student with a Turkish flag draped over her back added her own graffiti to the vehicle. Joking about how Turkish media – especially TV channels – were slow to show the worst anti-government violence in years, she penned: “Unbiased? He he, yes,” and added a smiley face. 

* Follow Scott Peterson on Twitter at @peterson__scott

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