ISTANBUL - Istanbul is again witnessing anti-government protests. The unrest erupted last week following the death of demonstrator Ahmet Atakan in the provincial city of Hatay near the Syrian border.
The circumstances of the 22-year-old's death are in dispute. Police say he fell from a building but demonstrators say he was struck by a pepper gas canister.
Thousands of people gathered at different points across Istanbul to protest.
The largely peaceful protests were broken up by riot police using water cannons and pepper gas. Demonstrators retaliated by building barricades and setting fires in the streets to dissipate the effects of the gas. Security forces and the government have declared unlawful protests will be met with a firm response. However, the crackdown has led to further protests against police tactics.
Turkey clash - video clip
"These protests would never have got as big as they did if the police did not use the harsh techniques, with all the water cannons and pepper gas," said Yasemin Congar, a writer on Turkish affairs.
Thousands gathered Sunday in Istanbul’s Kadikoy district, the center of the Asian side of the city, to protest police tactics. The district is a stronghold of opponents of the ruling AK Party and has been the epicenter of the latest protests.
Sunday’s demonstration ended in violence, with police using water cannon, gas and rubber bullets. Local media report several people were injured.
The latest unrest follows the early summer nationwide anti-government protests across the country, against what demonstrators say is Prime Minster Erdogan's increasingly authoritarian style of governance. While the current protests are not on the scale of earlier protests, Erdogan is promising a firm response, claiming his government is a victim of a conspiracy.
"Those people who know that they cannot win at the ballot box set their hopes on the streets," Erdogan said. "We won’t allow democracy to be interrupted. Our youth will defend democracy and won’t allow a new September 12."
September 12 is the anniversary date of the 1980 military coup in Turkey, when the army intervened after years of political violence. But journalist Congar says rather than a conspiracy, the prime minister is facing an increasingly politicized section of Turkish society that feels alienated by the government.
"The people, especially in Istanbul, but also around the country, have seen that, yes they can go out and shout they will be heard and they will be heard around the world," Congar said. "And I think that’s a sense of empowerment and I don’t think they are going sit back and shut up when something challenges them."
But with the prime minister seeing the protestors as a threat to democracy rather than as people exercising their democratic rights, observers warn the current cycle of protests and crackdown by the security forces are likely to continue. Such a scenario could well be played out in an environment of electoral politics, with Turkey set to hold important local and presidential polls next year.