The Turkish government spared no effort to block protesters from heading to Istanbul’s Taksim Square, now an iconic space of anti-Erdogan protest. It erected barricades, cut bus and ferry lines and deployed some 40,000 police all to keep protesters from turning out on International Workers Day.
Those moves didn't keep thousands from marching toward the Taksim in spite of a decades-long ban on organizing there on the historic day of protest.
In a show of government strength and an example of what Turks have been protesting for the last year, demonstrators were met with water cannons, tear gas, rubber bullets and reportedly even steel pellets. At least 138 people have been arrested and more than 50 have been injured in clashes with the police.
The protest comes amidst growing dissent against government corruption, police brutality and increasingly authoritarian rules, like a two-week Twitter ban instituted in March.
Earlier this week, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned the May Day committee — comprised of a handful of unions — to not even try to reach Taksim. Instead, he designated Yenikapi Square as an official place for the unionists to commemorate and offered special shuttle service to the area. The government says barring activists from Taksim this year was on account of reports that "illegal protest groups" were planning unrest in the iconic square.
Union organizers vowed to march to Taksim Thursday, calling the barring of protest there "irrational and illegal." Media, shared from the streets in Istanbul, shows a shocking and disproportionate amount of force used on the marchers by police.
The posturing of the government to prevent the march and the crackdown that is ensuing demonstrate exactly the kind of heavy-handed force that Turks have been rallying against in masse.
According to Turkish media, some 40,000 police were deployed around the city to curb protests.
People run as riot police use water cannons and tear gas to disperse thousands of people trying to reach the city's main Taskim Square.
The Turkish government sanctioned off Yenikapi Square as an official protest space for the trade unions. Protesters insisted on heading to Taksim as a show of remembrance for the May Day protests of 1977.
In 1977, several people commemorating Labor Day were gunned down by unknown assailants. The official count of the deaths varies between 34 and 39. The attack resulted in a decades-long ban on assembly in Taksim Square.
Video from Hurriyet Daily News appears to show a police firing at unamrmed civilians at close range.
Workers stand with posters commemorating those killed in the Gezi Park protests.