May Day demonstrators defied a protest ban and took to the streets around Istanbul’s Taksim Square Thursday, prompting clashes with police sent in preparation for what's known around the world as a day of protest.
Police used tear gas and water cannons against demonstrators, including a mix of trade unions, opposition activists and far left groups celebrating what has been dubbed International Workers’ Day, Turkish state news reports. Some protesters threw fireworks and stones at police.
Several unions had said earlier that they would ignore Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s warnings not to march on Taksim Square.
“We will be in Taksim despite the irrational and illegal ban. All roads will lead to Taksim on May Day, and our struggle for labour, equality, freedom, justice and peace will continue," top unions said in a joint statement, Reuters reports.
Roads and streets leading to Taksim Square were closed off Thursday, and authorities deployed nearly 40,000 police in Istanbul ahead of the protests.
The square’s iconic status is linked to its history as a hotspot for protests. A sit-in against urban development plans snowballed into weeks of mass anti-government protests in the area last year. And on May 1, 1977, 36 people were killed after unidentified gunmen fired on a massive May Day demonstration in the square.
May Day demonstrations took place around the world on Thursday, with some leading to clashes with police. Nearly 1,000 workers and opposition supporters in Phnom Penh, Cambodia ignored a protest ban and clashed with security forces.