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Turkey: Police crackdown on Taksim Square gets mixed reviews

ISTANBUL, Turkey — The attempted clearing of protesters from Istanbul’s Taksim Square by Turkish riot police is drawing some unlikely critics — but also some local allies.

Beginning Tuesday morning, Turkish police moved into the square next to Gezi Park, where thousands of demonstrators had staged a weeks-long sit-in to oppose both the park’s demolition and the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. 

Into the evening Tuesday, police fired tear gas and rubber-coated bullets at the demonstrators, some of whom lingered and continued to clash with security forces. Erdogan said there would be “no more tolerance” for demonstrators. 

More from GlobalPost: Turkish riot police clash with protesters into the night, as Erdogan says ‘no more tolerance’ (VIDEO)

While the protesters and their supporters saw it as an unprecedented crackdown — as Taksim Square became a symbol for their movement for change — some nearby business owners were relieved to see municipality workers cleaning the streets and painting over graffiti.

Across the Bosphorus Strait, on Istanbul’s Asian shore, wealthy residents there are ready to support the demonstrators. 

“I support the people’s right to demonstrate and protest for what they want,” one Taksim-area grocer, who asked not to be identified for security reasons, said. “But every wall in the city will have to be cleaned and painted. Many of my neighbors can’t open up their shops because their property is damaged.” 

More from GlobalPost: Turkey protests: about more than a shopping mall

On Tuesday afternoon, even as police continued to face off Taksim Square activists, hundreds of workers were scrubbing off anti-government graffiti and helping repair damaged property. In the past several weeks since the protests began, demonstrators looted or destroyed everything from banks, ATMs, and a Starbucks cafe. 

Laborers also piled the pavement bricks and metal pipes that until today served as barriers to the police into dumper trucks. Ambulances dodged bulldozers helping with cleanup as paramedics continued to ferry the wounded away from Taksim Square. Last week, Turkey’s deputy prime minister estimated the cleanup cost at more than $37 million. 

“Erdogan has sold our public spaces in Istanbul and all over Turkey to private companies,” said Omar, a 28-year-old activist. “We want to end this.”

Istanbul’s mass demonstrations, which kicked off last month in response to a separate crackdown by police on peaceful protesters at Gezi Park, widened in the city over the weekend as the government and its opponents hardened their positions. 

The protests, in which two protestors have been killed, have morphed into an informal referendum of sorts on Erdogan’s rule and the direction in which many feel he is taking the country. Taksim Square activists say Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) are trying to curb liberal freedoms by passing laws restricting the sale of alcohol and morning-after pill. 

More from GlobalPost: Raw feed: Turkey’s protesters talk sex, booze and human rights

In the well-to-do Moda neighborhood on the Asian side of the Bosphorus Strait, storeowners say the new alcohol restrictions were first tried out three weeks ago — the result of a local councilman angling to gain favor with the AKP, residents here say. 

Boasting restaurants, bars, cafes, and an exclusive resort for some of Istanbul’s wealthiest families, Moda residents appear to have little reason to rock the boat.
But here, Gezi Park demonstrators, it seems, can rely on widespread if surprising support. 

Residents here have banged pots and pans every night for two weeks in support of the demonstrators, they say. 

“Everyone is against the government here in Moda,” said Melih Ziyn Sezer, an 81-year-old pharmacist. 

“When the mentality of a country is being squeezed the entire country is at risk,” he said. “We have to oppose this.”

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