Turkey’s combative prime minister warned protesters that police would do “whatever is necessary” to clamp down on demonstrations Saturday in Istanbul’s Taksim Square to mark the anniversary of last year’s turmoil.
What began last year as small campaign to save Istanbul’s Gezi Park from redevelopment eventually drew an estimated three million protesters in an outpouring of anger at the perceived authoritarian tendencies of Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted government.
“I am calling on all my people. Do not be deceived. This is not an environmentalist campaign. There is no sincerity here,” Erdogan told thousands of supporters at an Istanbul rally.
“If you go there, our security forces have received clear-cut instructions and will do whatever is necessary from A to Z,” he said. Eight people died and thousands were injured in the heavy-handed police crackdown that ensued, as clouds of tear gas wafted through the park on Taksim Square.
Despite a ban on protests at the square, the epicentre of last year’s demonstrations, activists are calling for a new rally there on Saturday, raising the prospect of clashes after police confronted protesters trying to defy a similar ban on May Day.
Some 25,000 police officers as well as dozens of water cannon trucks and armoured vehicles were due to be deployed across Istanbul to prevent demonstrators from reaching the square.
Last year’s deadly protests turned into the largest challenge to Erdogan since his Islamic-rooted party came to power in 2002.
One year on, the political tensions born out of the Gezi revolt continue to simmer despite a ruling party victory in March 30 local elections that has boosted Erdogan’s ambitions to stand for president in August.