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Ankara riot police clash with demonstrators

22 September 2013

Ankara riot police clashed, once again, with protesters on the Middle East Technical University (ODTU).

A group of nearly 200 protesters gathered together to demonstrate against the proposed new road which will go through the university campus and destroy thousands of trees in the process.

Police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse the group protesting the construction of the new road. Despite an agreement between the ODTU and the Environment and Urban Planning Ministry to build a road tunnel under the campus’ wooded areas, tensions remained high on the ODTU campus.

Environment and Urban Planning Minister Erdogan Bayraktar’s pledge to route a new cross-campus road under wooded areas of the Middle East Technical University (ODTU) did little to dissuade groups protesting the development, who clashed with police again on Thursday night.

Police tried to disperse the crowd of nearly 200 protesters who set up barricades started fires near the campus. The protesters threw stones and shot fireworks at the police.

Tensions continued early Friday morning, when another group of protesters gathered in front of a shopping mall nearby and closed a road using barricades made from trash bins. The police, unable to break the barricade, intervened with water cannon trucks (TOMAs).

Another young man lost his life following a supporters’ demonstration held in the Hatay province. Ahmet Atakan, 22, died on Monday in clashes with police during a demonstration.

A group of protesters, including Atakan, gathered in Antakya Ugur Mumcu Square on Monday and marched towards the Armutlu neighborhood shouting slogans. Police intervened in the protest with water cannon and tear gas when the group attacked them with stones and fireworks.

Atakan was heavily injured in the clash and taken to Antakya State Hospital, where he subsequently died.

The nature of Atakan’s injuries is still unknown but relatives of the young man said he died from being hit by a tear gas canister fired by a police officer.

On Tuesday, Adnan Boynukara, an official from the Justice Ministry, made a statement on Twitter saying that Atakan’s autopsy has been completed. He claimed that initial findings showed that he died after falling from a significant height.

The ODTU project was planned by the Ankara Metropolitan Municipality as a link between Anadolu Boulevard and the Konya highway in order to relieve traffic in the city. The campus is surrounded by acres of woodland.

The construction of the road started four months ago but resulted in recent protests by local people and students at ODTU. Residents have criticised the municipality for building the road and claim that the project will be disruptive to the neighbourhood.

Protesters argue that hundreds of trees will be cut down, contesting Ankara Mayor Melih Gokcek’s claims that the road will simply run parallel to the campus. Gokcek argues that the new road will lessen the traffic on Eskisehir Road. “Here are a handful of city-enemy militants. Their sole aim is to make a scene,” he wrote on his Twitter account on Aug. 25.

Protesters also claim that, having counted the trees in the area, more than 7,360 will be cut down if the project is realized.

Turkey has been racked by popular demonstrations since May when Gezi Park in Istanbul faced destruction to make way for a replica Ottoman barracks and shopping mall. Protests spread like wildfire around the country.

Turkey has since then faced censure for the violent retaliation by riot police which has, so far, resulted in the deaths of six civilians and one police officer.

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