Turkish police fire tear gas against protesters on anniversary of demonstrations

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan had warned people to stay out of Taksim Square, site of mass protests on May 31, 2013: 'Our security forces ... will do whatever is necessary.'

Emrah Gurel/AP
People try to march after security members closed the city's landmark Taksim Square and Gezi Park, on the first anniversary of last year's protests in Istanbul, Turkey, May 31. A government-backed redevelopment plan for Gezi Park in Istanbul sparked anger and morphed into nationwide anti-government protests last year, leaving eight people dead and thousands more injured.

Turkish police on Saturday used teargas in central Istanbul to disperse protesters seeking to mark the one-year anniversary of the start of the biggest anti-government demonstrations in decades.

Several hundred people gathered on streets leading to Taksim Square, shouting for the government's resignation, when police fired teargas at the crowd, which quickly scattered.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, who was the target of many protesters' ire last year, had warned people to stay out of Taksim Square, saying security forces would do whatever is necessary to keep the area clear.

"Our security forces have clear orders. They will do whatever is necessary from A to Z," Erdogan said at a ceremony in Istanbul that was broadcast live by the NTV news channel.

Riot police circled the perimeter of Gezi Park, which adjoins Taksim Square, and hundreds of plainclothes officers carrying batons patrolled Istiklal, a major shopping street that leads to Taksim as well as a popular tourist spot.

On May 31, 2013, police forcefully evicted environmentalists from Gezi Park who had staged a peaceful sit-in for several days to try to stop government plans to raze the green space and build a shopping mall.

Angered by the use of violence, tens of thousands of people from a variety of political backgrounds descended on Gezi and occupied Taksim Square for about two weeks before authorities finally cleared the space. Many complained of what they saw as growing authoritarianism after Erdogan's decade in office.

Six people including one police officer died in the demonstrations, which had spread to other major Turkish cities, and another half-dozen or so others lost their lives in related protests in the ensuing months.

Elif Cetinkaya, 45, and her family gathered across the street from Gezi Park on Saturday, wearing T-shirts with the images of those killed in the 2013 unrest.

"Why did so many people have to die to save this park? We are here to mourn their loss and show that we stand firm, no matter what obstacles they erect," Cetinkaya said.

Smaller demonstrations have erupted in Taksim and other parts of Istanbul sporadically since last June, but none have approached the scale of the first two weeks of protests at the square.

The protest movement appeared to have little impact on the ruling AK Party's political fortunes when it handily won national municipal elections in March.

But Gezi Park remains a park, one of the few green spaces in central Istanbul, Europe's biggest city.

Newspapers said 25,000 officers had been deployed on Saturday.

The metro station at Taksim was also closed to travelers, as were boulevards that lead to the square.

Ferryboat services between Istanbul's shores on either side of the Bosphorus Strait were also canceled on orders of the governor's office, the city ferry line said on its website.

(Additional reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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