ISTANBUL – Police on Saturday fired volleys of tear gas at protesters who had gathered at the city's landmark Taksim Square with the intention of entering a park which has been cordoned off, hours after the city's governor warned that the demonstration was illegal and participants would be dispersed.
A few thousand people converged on the square, with the aim of entering the nearby Gezi Park, whose redevelopment plans sparked anger and morphed into nationwide anti-government protests in June. Organizers had planned to serve notice to authorities of a court decision that has annulled redevelopment plans for Taksim and break through police cordons.
The park has been cordoned off since June 15, when police routed environmentalists who occupied it amid the widespread demonstrations against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government. His opponents say he has become increasingly authoritarian since coming to power a decade ago.
The nationwide protests have largely dwindled although thousands of demonstrators have been gathering at Taksim every Saturday for the past three weeks, demanding justice for a protester who was killed by police fire.
This time, some protesters argued with police standing guard at the entrance of Gezi Park. Police then pushed protesters away from the square with pressurized water and tear gas. They also chased protesters down two main streets off Taksim, firing tear gas.
An Istanbul court in June rule against the redevelopment plans that included building a replica Ottoman-era barracks at Gezi. The court's decision however, is not final and is expected to be appealed at a higher administrative court.
Istanbul Gov. Huseyin Avni Mutlu had warned that the protest aimed at entering Gezi was unauthorized and said police would intervene. He also said authorities planned to reopen the park on Sunday or Monday.
Earlier, police also dispersed a small group of demonstrators who squirted water at each other at the square, in a passive form of protest to poke fun at police's abundant use of water cannon throughout the anti-government protests. Police used shields to shove the protesters off Taksim.