ISTANBUL: Protesters clashed with police in Turkey on Wednesday as tens of thousands of people took to the streets to mourn a teenage boy who died from injuries suffered during last year’s anti-government protests.
Riot police fired tear gas and water cannon at protestors in the capital Ankara, while in Istanbul, crowds shouting anti-government slogans lit a huge fire as they made their way to a cemetery for the burial of 15-year-old Berkin Elvan.
Elvan, who died in an Istanbul hospital on Tuesday after 269 days in a coma, was hit on the head by a tear gas canister while going to buy bread during the demonstrations against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan that gripped Turkey in June.
“Berkin’s murderers are the AKP police,” protesters shouted in Istanbul, referring to Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
“The rage of mothers will suffocate the killers,” screamed others as they marched through the streets after Elvan’s funeral.
His death prompted protests reminiscent of last year’s unrest, with thousands of people clashing with police on Tuesday in at least 32 cities, including Istanbul and Ankara, where the most violent clashes took place.
The renewed unrest is likely to add to pressure on Erdoğan, whose government has been rocked by an escalating corruption scandal ahead of elections that could decide his fate.
“How many young people have to die for Erdoğan to resign? My only wish is this fascism to end without spilling more blood,” said retired worker Atilla Izmirlioglu.
Elvan’s story became a symbol of the heavy-handed police tactics against demonstrators in June, the biggest of Erdoğan’s 11-year-rule.
Erdoğan has vowed to step down if the AKP, in power since 2002, loses local elections on March 30 that are seen as a key test of his popularity after last year’s unrest and the graft probe.
Government spokesman Bulent Arinc said Turkey had been in mourning since Elvan’s death.
“It is very sad that a child has died in an incident that occurred on the street,” he said.
According to local media, some 20 demonstrators were injured and 150 arrests made after Tuesday’s clashes.
President Abdullah Gul expressed his sadness Tuesday at the boy’s death and appealed for calm, urging everyone “to do everything to prevent this from happening again.”
The protests of June last year started as a relatively small environmentalist movement to save Istanbul’s central Gezi Park but evolved into a nationwide wave of protests against Erdoğan, who is seen as increasingly authoritarian.
An estimated 2.5 million people took to the streets across Turkey over three weeks in June to demand Erdoğan’s resignation. More than 8,000 people were injured, according to medics.
Elvan’s death brought the toll from the unrest to at least eight, including one policeman.
- ‘Enough is enough’ -
The boy’s mother Gulsum Elvan had challenged Erdogan, who praised police “heroism” during the protests.
“It’s not God who took my son away but Prime Minister Erdoğan, “the tearful mother told reporters on Tuesday.
One student who gave her name as Ayse also blamed the embattled prime minister for the boy’s death.
“Erdoğan’s police killed this guy. He should be ashamed but he didn’t even send his condolences to the family.
“Enough is enough, we are fed up with this government of murderers,” she told AFP.
Several political parties and trade unions had called for mass demonstrations on Wednesday after Elvan’s funeral.
“Their children steal millions and our children are killed when they go to buy bread,” said the Disk union.
The union was referring to a corruption scandal that broke in December, implicating Erdoğan’s inner circle and their families.
Since then, sporadic protests have continued against controversial measures taken by Erdoğan in response to the scandal, including laws tightening state control over the Internet and the judiciary.