Turkish police clash with May Day protesters

ANKARA: Police and May Day demonstrators have clashed in Istanbul as crowds determined to defy a government ban tried to march to the city’s iconic Taksim Square.

Turkish police also used tear gas and water cannon to disperse the protesters in the Besiktas district of Istanbul.

Police moved in on the protesters close to the shores of the Bosphorus as they tried to move towards the Taksim Square protest hub of Istanbul, using water cannon trucks and spraying tear gas, the correspondent said. Protesters retaliated by throwing stones and hurling firecrackers at police.

Authorities have blocked the square that is symbolic as the center of protests in which 34 people were killed in 1977.

Turkish news wires say that 10,000 police officers were stationed around the square Friday with water cannons to block the protesters.

The demonstrations are the first large-scale protests since the government passed a security bill this year giving police expanded powers to crack down on protesters.

Critics say President Tayyip Erdogan and the government have become more authoritarian ahead of June elections.

“This meeting is peaceful and is not armed,” opposition politician Mahmut Tanal, holding a pocket-sized book of the Turkish constitution, told Reuters in Istanbul.

“People want to express their problems but the government doesn’t want those problems to be heard ahead of elections.”

The normally thronged Isitklal shopping avenue leading to Taksim was deserted, with shops shuttered and metal barricades blocking off sidestreets. Police helicopters circled overhead.

A usually bustling square lined with cafes and hotels, Taksim was filled with police buses, ambulances and satellite broadcast trucks. A pair of tourists emerged from a hotel to find the area sealed off and nervously made their way around police lines.

The government had said Taksim would only be open to those who came peacefully and not for “illegal demonstrations.”

“I wish May 1 to be celebrated in a festive mood without provocations,” Erdogan said in a statement. Opposition parties and unions called on the government to lift the ban.

Erdogan has previously dismissed protesters as “riff-raff” and terrorists, outraged by the unrest in 2013 that brought unwanted international attention and posed the biggest challenge to his AK Party since it came to power in 2002.

He is aiming for a massive victory for the party in June parliamentary polls, which would allow it to change the constitution and give him broad presidential powers.

The 2013 Taksim protests began as a peaceful demonstration against plans to redevelop Gezi Park, a leafy corner of the square. After a police crackdown the demonstration spiraled into weeks of nationwide protests against Erdogan’s rule.