ISTANBUL: Turkish riot police fired tear gas and water cannon at crowds on Friday after a second person died from anti-government protests that have turned into running battles on the streets of Istanbul.
Riot police clad in heavy body armor swung clubs and fired guns into the air as rioters blocked roads and burned tires, according to an AFP photographer on the scene.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan defended the police’s actions, branding the demonstrators “terrorists.”
“I don’t understand how police can maintain their patience,” during an address to his party lawmakers on Friday.
“When these terrorists are smashing windows, how can police wait with their hands tied?”
Demonstrators have taken to the street to vent their anger over last week’s mine disaster in the western town of Soma and to commemorate to death of a teenage boy from injuries sustained during anti-government unrest last year.
A second person died from injuries on Friday after being hit by a grenade explosion during violent clashes overnight Thursday, Istanbul governor Huseyin Avni Mutlu said.
“Another of our citizens who was seriously wounded has lost his life,” Mutlu told reporters, without naming the victim.
“We have lost a person who was wounded by a hand grenade. The death toll has risen to two.”
Mutlu blamed masked and armed groups for seeking to sow chaos in Turkey’s financial capital. At least eight police officers and another person have already been injured in the clashes, he said.
Tensions are high with the approach of the first anniversary of deadly nationwide anti-government protests and in the wake of a mine disaster that claimed 301 lives last week.
The mine tragedy — the worst in the country’s history — has caused a new wave of fury against Erdogan’s government ahead of an expected run for the presidency in August.
– Outrage –
The first victim of the clashes was named as Ugur Kurt, 30, who died of gunshot wounds to his head.
The father-of-one was attending a funeral in a house of worship belonging to the Alevi branch of Islam when he was caught in clashes between police and some 50 protesters in the restive Okmeydani district.
Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc on Thursday suggested he was hit by a stray bullet fired by a police officer during the violence.
Video footage showing Kurt falling to the ground in a pool of blood has gone viral on social media websites, sparking renewed outrage on the streets of the Okmeydani.
The working-class district is home to the minority Alevi community — an offshoot of Shiite Islam.
Erdogan faced calls to cancel a pre-election address in Germany on Saturday from across Berlin’s political spectrum amid concerns that the visit could provoke tension within the country’s large Turkish community.
“I’m counting on the fact that he’ll do this (appearance) on Saturday with a sense of responsibility and sensitivity,” Chancellor Angela Merkel told Thursday’s Passauer Neue Presse newspaper.
For the first time, some 2.6 million Turks living abroad — including 1.5 million in Germany alone — will be able to cast their votes in the August presidential vote.
Germany’s Alevi community has called an anti-Erdogan demonstration on the day for Cologne, accusing him of seeking to “polarize” Turks.
Eight people died because of anti-government unrest that erupted in 2013 when police cracked down on a peaceful campaign to save a small Istanbul park from redevelopment.
The protests, which also left 8,000 people wounded, soon snowballed into a campaign against the perceived authoritarian tendencies of the Islamic-rooted government.