Protests in Turkey Turn Violent

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Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman, this is The World. You've heard these sounds before…

[gunshots, crowd noises]

Werman: Whether it's at Zuccotti Park in New York, or Tahrir Square in Cairo. This is different. This is Turkey. And Turkey's democracy has mostly thrived. It's tried to balance its Islamic heritage and a modern secular state, but the Turkish state is being challenged in a big way. Today, protesters in the capital Ankara threw stones at riot police, and the police responded with tear gas and water cannons. This was the fourth day in a row that this has been going on, both in Ankara and Istanbul, where things started last week. Dalia Mortada is a freelance journalist in Istanbul. So, Dalia, you've been at these protests every day now since they started last week. Describe the buildup and how they've gone from just a few people to know many thousands, along with police violence.

Dalia Mortada: The protests started early last week in protest of building in mall in the park in the center of Istanbul. It basically culminated when police attacked protesters sleeping in the park at 5:00 AM on Friday. After police barricade the park and stops access to the park, protesters got very angry and social media basically mobilized people to come out. The more violent the interaction between police and protesters got, the more people started to come in support. Once the rest the people got out of work, the protests swelled to the hundreds of thousands and on Saturday and Sunday, over the weekend, the protests spread to about 67 cities, I've heard.

Werman: Wow. So, where do things stand today, on Monday?

Mortada: On Monday, Taksim square and Gezi park, which are both in the center of Istanbul, are basically the land of the protesters. They are able to walk freely, they are celebrating, they are dancing, they are singing, they're signing petitions, they're cleaning up the park after a lot of damage and trash from the protests on Friday and Saturday and they're just sort of hanging out together and making themselves visible.

Werman: So, the police have been using tear gas and water cannons to disperse protesters. What has been the official government response to what's been going on?

Mortada: Initially on Saturday, there was the initial report that prime minister Erdogan that come out and said there was an excessive use of tear gas, and that was wrong. After the statement, however, some of the clashes had moved down to another neighborhood in Istanbul, and even more tear gas was used there.

Werman: So, do these protests have a leader?

Mortada: They don't. They don't at all, actually. These protests are basically everyone and anyone who has something to say. There's about 50% of the population was voted in favor of the ruling party, but there's also 50% of the population who have voted for a number of other parties. Since one party obviously 50% of the vote, they have the majority of the government and so what protests are saying is they're not being heard since they're not the voters in that party, so the government is basically a one party rule.

Werman: So, Dalia, I gather you have a protester standing with you. Her name is Denise, could I have a word with her real quick?

Mortada: Absolutely. Here's Denise.

Werman: Denise, hello. This is Marco Werman from the public radio program The World in Boston. Do you feel like all of these people have come out, and it's now kind of turned these demonstrations into a protest against prime minister Erdogan? Do you feel that?

Denise: It is, because once the police started to use this excessive amount of tear gas, it wasn't tear gas anymore, it was used like a chemical weapon. So, people were so angry because the government didn't make any explanation, anything to stop it, it became really cruel and really brutal and once people started to get hurt and the hospitals, there was news about people were getting really, really bad injuries from all of the gas. They didn't make any explanation and then they have this media censorship, some people got to really, really mad and it became something against government and Erdogan itself, also because of his disinterest in all of the things going on, and afterwards his strange explanations in, "We don't care about which are doing, we will do whatever he wants to do". Some people said no.

Werman: Denise, how do you see these protests ending?

Denise: I don't know yet. I don't know, because it didin't start as protets of a party, of a group who wants to change things politically or do some very big change or revolution in the country. It just started as something about this park, so I don't know where it is going. I don't think anyone knows. Currently, it feels like we're just standing here in raising our voice to be heard.

Werman: All right, Denise. We'll leave it there. Thank you very much, and thanks very much to Dalia Mortada before you. All the best.

Denise: Thank you, bye.