Last night riot police firing tear gas and water cannon stormed Gezi Park and Taksim Square, bringing to an end the 18 day occupation by demonstrators.
Both areas were packed with people, including many families and children. However, many left as they saw the police presence building up.
Following the raid on the iconic park, ambulances were sent in. Security forces took over the park, demolishing the tents. Bulldozers worked to clear the remaining barricades around the park.
Protesters had started a few hours earlier to remove the barricades standing at the entrance of the park only to find themselve being hounded out of Gezi Park. They then erected barriers across Taksim Square but police managed to disperse the crowds there and cordoned off the square.
Now both places are eerily quiet as both sides decide on their next step.
On Friday June 14th President Erdogan had offered to defer to a court ruling on the legality of the government’s contested park redevelopment plan, and said that if the government won its appeal there could be a referendum for the citizens of Istanbul.
The protesters felt those concessions were not enough, however, and vowed to press on. However they had agreed to remove barricades around the site as well as all political banners from the park.
Tensions mounted on Saturday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ultimatum to protesters, giving them a day to end demonstrations.
During a speech in Sincan, an Ankara suburb that is a stronghold of his party he said “I say this very clearly: either Taksim Square is cleared, or if it isn’t cleared then the security forces of this country will know how to clear it,”
Tens of thousands of his supporters cheered him and told him not to back down.
Overnight into Sunday, demonstrators blocked a highway to Ataturk Airport. Thousands of demonstrators attempting to march across the Bosphorus Bridge towards Taksim Square were met by a heavy police presence and repelled with tear gas.
Many protesters also gathered on the European side in neighbourhoods such as Etiler, Bakirko and Mecidiyekoy. There were running scuffles with police in most of these areas.
In Ankara a group of deputies from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) have staged a sit-in to prevent the police’s intervention against thousands of protesters that have gathered in support of the Istanbul protestors.
“One million people to Taksim” – a call for more anti-government demonstrations later on Sunday – was a top-trending hashtag on Twitter.
The demonstration at Gezi Park is set to start at 4 p.m. The Turkish prime minister will be holding another mass rally at the same hour a few kilometers away, at the Kazlicesme Square.
Dissidents remain defiant. A main public-sector union confederation, KESK, which has some 240,000 members, said it would call a national strike for Monday, while a second union grouping said it was holding an emergency meeting to decide whether to join the action.