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Live Coverage of Events in Taksim Square in Istanbul, Turkey; Heavy Clouds of Tear Gas in Istanbul; Continued Protests Led to Clashes with Police

Aired June 11, 2013 - 13:23   ET


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: Following breaking news. This is out of Istanbul, Turkey. I want to listen into CNN internationals coverage. Our own Nick Paton-Walsh is there with - wearing a gas mask and describing the scene, he is right above that square. Let's listen in.

The scene that has been developing over the last hour or so that it's gotten extremely tense. This is between protesters who are on the ground there and authorities, Turkish authorities who have been firing tear gas. They've been water canned, tear gassed, let's listen again.

We're told that our correspondent, our CNN international correspondent who is really right there looking above - looking down on this scene is now currently washing his eyes out from the tear gas because it has been so heavy over the last ten to 20 minute there. But you're seeing the gas that's just billowing through the square. This is after 12 days a protest that originally erupted because of the government's plan to build a shopping mall and destroy a park, which has really turned into something that is much, much more. A battle, if you will, between many of the Turkish people there. Believe the government has overstepped its bounds in many ways in controlling their lives. They've asked for the Turkish prime minister to step down. And you see on the left there, Nick Paton-Walsh, he is putting that gas mask back on, so he can continue to do the incredible reporting that he is doing there, but he's been essentially narrating what he's seen taking place on the ground. Let's listen in if we can.

As you can imagine when you're that close to the scene you've got to protect yourself as well and there're authorities that have been lined up there with gas masks as they are deploying the tear gas and trying to disperse the crowd. This is CNN international that you're watching these live pictures from here. And this comes from close to two weeks now of a standoff between those people on the ground in Turkey who are very angry with their government and Turkish authorities. Their own security forces, initially there had been very violent reaction to the -- a peaceful protest that happened. Let's listen in. It is -- it has since developed into something much, much more.


ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: -- Only the riot police as well. Those - (inaudible) - those waters (ph) are being shot directly into (inaudible). A water cannon you just saw going off directly into the (inaudible) as well. It is really stunning to see just how quickly the situation here changed. It's a short distance away from where I'm standing right now. There seems to be some kind of an altercation between a riot policeman and one of the demonstrators, and that then erupted into what we saw transpire. The tear gas being fired, all over the place, water cannons just (inaudible) with thousands, hundreds of thousands, as people have now cleared completely out, and we're still hearing the repeated shots of tear gas being fired, and water cannon also going (ph) right into. (inaudible). That is the (inaudible) where (inaudible).

MALVEAUX: Arwa Damon there live in the thick of things, we're seeing riot police launch large amounts of tear gas. Arwa, if you can stand by there, I want to tell our viewers in the United States just joining us what they are watching. Dramatic scenes unfolding right now in Istanbul with riot police essentially trying to clear out this central square called Taksim Square in Istanbul where anti-prime-ministerial, anti-Recep Tayyip Erdogan demonstrators have gathered over the last week or so, even more than a week, protesting initially the refurbishment of a park. And eventually these demonstrations, more sink into this anti-government protest.

Our Nick Paton Walsh is also very near Taksim Square with the very latest. I'm seeing rows there of riot police. Nick, it appears as though no more protesters are in the square, is that correct?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That is correct. They do seem to have for the most part being pushed out, obviously, by that intense cloud of tear gas, police continuing to fire as they advance.

One development I can bring to you is down the sides towards Gazi Park (ph) here, the column of riot police have been moving down that road to the left of Gazi Park (ph), firing again large amounts of tear gas as they go. That's been a key area much of the day. Barricades built there by protesters, and perhaps (ph) clearly the police task is to approach them way back down there. I've also seen riot police firing tear gas down this side alley as well. They have taken up position there and on the entrance between the main square and this (inaudible) the main street here. In central Istanbul, there are ambulances stationed to the side of the square, so clearly some effort made if medical attention if required. And we're also seeing these armored vehicles taking up position to police for the first time today. (inaudible), moving in different directions (inaudible), and I am trying to take that mask off now if I can -- you can get a better hear for what I'm saying.

We are really now seeing the first significant large coordinated police efforts to retake parts of Taksim Square, Hala, if you can hear me.

HALA GORANI, CNN ANCHOR: Right, we can hear you, Nick. Stand by. I'm going to go back to Arwa. She's ground level.

Nick was mentioning armored vehicles in the square. Arwa, can you see those armored vehicles? What can you tell us from your vantage point now? (CROSSTALK)

DAMON: Some of them right in front of us. There was a significant amount of tear gas fired straight through here in Gezi Park. The entire park is under a cloud of white smoke and tear gas. It seems like so much inside the park was chucked by the riot police here. They're not physically entering the park. However, they are firing tear gas, water cannons.

Remember, the government said it would not be entering the park and it would be allowing the demonstrators there to proceed with their demonstration. I'm going to take this off and, hopefully, you'll be able to hear me a bit more clearly at this point. But the situation here really changed so quickly, so dramatically. If we move out of it, we can show you where the demonstrators were. Right down in the direction. There were thousands, tens of thousands of demonstrators who were peaceful.

Again, we were standing here when something like an altercation seemed to have broken out between a small group of protesters and the riot police. That escalated within seconds. There was tear gassing fire, water cannons fire, rocks were being thrown at the riot police. Now the square itself seems to have been completely cleared out.

We can see one of riot police, right there in that corner, Joe, if you can turn over. Seems like they are taking aim, getting ready the fire inside the park. From this point, I can barely see people. Looking as if they are trying to clear out of the park.

Earlier in the day, when we were here, Hala, the riot police had entered the fringes of the park. They said that rocks are being thrown at them from the park itself. Then they were pushed back, pretty peacefully by demonstrators. The demonstrators have been holed up inside the park, getting ready for an additional push by the riot police. They were soaking blankets in water. They have emergency medical stations set up inside.

That gas is coming towards us right now.

But it's still continues to be a pretty tense situation down here right now. Difficult to tell what is happening inside the park itself from this vantage point. You can see the riot police trying to peer through.

A lot of people we were talking to down here, Hala, were telling us earlier in the day that really all it would take to end this, from their perspective, would be the government reversing its decision to turn this park into a shopping mall. But, of course, the demonstrations now, what's happening has really expanded and has been expanding from the first day as to what it began in that park.

A lot of the other demonstrators that showed up in the evening, heeding a call from social media to come out and take a stance against the government at 7:00 p.m., came out in vast numbers. Many of them saying that they were out here in solidarity demonstrating against what they say is the government's, the prime minister's increasingly authoritarian rule. His government is trying to impose conservative Islamic laws on what many people feel is a secular state. Turkey's very identity, for decades, has been trying to separate politics and religion. A lot of what we're seeing, these initial demonstrations, transform into is this growing discontent for a certain portion of the population with their own government.

There's riot police pushing back a bit right now it would seem.

Do you think we can get into the park?

GORANI: Arwa? Arwa? If you can hear me, one of things you said struck me. You said perhaps the riot police is firing some of these tear gas canisters into the park itself. The plans to remodel this park and turn it into a shopping center and, from what I under, the government promised not to clear that park. Is that what's happening now? Are they firing into the park?

DAMON: That is exactly what's happening. We're trying to see if we can get in a bit closer to the fringe of the park. We may be able to reach from here to see what's happening inside that park.

Because the government had promised to allow those demonstrators to -- I'm sorry. I had no idea what that was.

We can hear chanting from the direction of the park and down this road here. We can see another group of demonstrators stationed right down there.

I'm going to put my gas mask back on. Give me one second. Sorry.

Hala, if you can still hear me.

GORANI: It appears we have lost Arwa. We'll get back to her as soon as we can reconnect with Arwa Damon, who is ground level with these dramatic images. Riot police are clearing Taksim Square. According to Arwa, as well, firing into that park that sparked these protests to begin with.

Nick Paton Walsh is our Istanbul bureau with more.

What can you see from your vantage point, Nick?

WALSH: What we have been seeing is what looked like water cannons firing in the direction of Gezi Park. We are hearing the distinctive crash you hear when tear gas is launched. We don't know in which direction that's happening.

There's a separate move by police down up with of the concrete roads on the left hand side of the park as you face it from the shot you're seeing now. There's been barricades for much of the day. Until recently, police just piled straight down that particular road. An enormous cloud of tear gas ahead of them. Substantial numbers, too. It seems two different police units and two different color helmets here. I don't know if that signifies a change in shifts or a different level or expertise, but we have seen the most coordinated effort by police so far today to push protesters back. As we're seeing now, there appear to be a group of police at the mouth of Gezi Park from what I can see from here through the smoke. Police moving on the left of the park as well. And remarkably nobody in the square, which about half an hour to 45 minutes ago, was just packed with protesters -- Hala?

GORANI: Does this seem as though it was a coordinated police effort that had been in the making, planned, or something more spontaneous?

PATON WALSH: It's hard to tell. We have been wondering what the police strategy was all day. They had been skirting around the park. Promises from Istanbul's government the park would be left alone appear to be held at some point. We thought they wanted to push into that green area and make the focus of tomorrow's talks, perhaps to be about conservation rather than the broader scoop of these protests have begun to encompass.

We don't know what sparked this police move. Arwa Damon saying there was some sort of altercation. But we've been seeing that all day, so no specific reason why that sparked an enormous response by police. We were seeing people pouring into the square for an hour, joining together, music festivity. The distinct distinctive jump, jump, the dance people have been doing where they link arms and bounce up together. So the effects of that are considered to be the prime minister himself.

So a festive scene interrupted so suddenly with that tear gas -- Hala?

GORANI: Just to explain, these are protesters who say this prime minister is increasingly authoritarian. He's trying to impose his on vision of political Islam in a country that has a proud tradition of secularism. How representative of these demonstrators of the whole of Turkey, Nick?

WALSH: They represent those who did not vote for the prime minister. The question really is, how much of a cohesive viewpoint do they represent themselves. When we've seen the large crowds gather in the square over the past 12 days, they have encompassed a different role of opinions, objecting to being disenfranchised, they say by the administration. Which points out the Erdogan administration repeatedly voted back in by about 50 percent of the population. They have a democratic mandate. The people in the square don't feel their rights to secular lifestyle, their ability to consume alcohol when they want, or to lead more independent lives isn't respected by the prime minister. That's to the heart of what the protesters are talking about. It's led them to call him authoritarian. It's led to some to demand his resignation.

But it's important to point out, so much of this demonstration doesn't have a coherent objective. It's not clear what they want. I've been in protests before where the main goal is to get the prime minister to stand down. That hasn't always been the case as you move around the country. They have different objectives.

The taxing platform that was supposed to meet with the prime minister tomorrow did want to see them stop the use of tear gas. We don't see that happening. They wanted to see the dismissal of anybody involved in the heavy handed tactics of the police in the past 12 days. They also wanted the park to remain as is at the moment. But that negotiation tomorrow obviously, what we see behind us here, or perhaps the government will try to press ahead with it now that they have given themselves the upper hand down in the square.

But it's just been remarkable to see the intensity of the tear gas used and how fast everybody vanished -- Hala?

GORANI: Right.

It's 20 to 9:00 p.m. in Istanbul now. The prime minister saying he's lost his patience. Certainly, not appearing to be conciliatory when it comes to responding to these demonstrators.

Arwa Damon, I want to try to get back to Arwa Damon who is in Taksim Square.

Tell us what you're seeing now, Arwa, if you can hear me.


DAMON: It's going to be bad.

Hala, I'm in the park right now putting our gas masks on because there's more gas being fired into the park itself.

There's a lot of people walking around trying to help those who are struggling because of the intensity and severity of the tear gas.

That guy right there is helping the girl out with the burn. People are really rallying together.

But it's a pretty intense gassing of this tent city that's been here ever since these demonstrations began.

The demonstrators here were readying themselves for this earlier in the day. The riot police did enter the park itself. They are determined to stay here.

But there's many different layers to what's happening in Turkey. You have the demonstrators who are holed up here because of their demands that this park not be turned into a shopping mall. Those have escalated as we have been seeing for days now. It's much broader demonstrations of discontent with the prime minister's government.

The people here were promised by the government that this location would not be attacked, that they would be allowed to continue to demonstrate here. Now the situation ends.

There's also a sense of camaraderie going on. People really helping one another out, helping us out. They're trying to get the wounded to these makeshift sites that they have.

We're hearing fire. The gas has cleared a bit now. I'm going to remove this. Apologies for all that. But as I was saying, there's a sense of camaraderie her and unity. A lot of people walking around, helping each other out. There's also been lot of calling for calm. Even when the first altercation broke out that seemed to have sparked all of that transpired afterwards, people were still calling for calm. In that very moment after those first clashes broke out, people were asking one another, calm down, please calm down, don't let this escalate. Of course, it did. But even now, when we were just seeing tear gas fired down the road, there were people saying, no, no, stay calm, stay calm. Try to keep the whole situation calm.

We're hearing various chants happening all around us.

But people are here for the long haul. They're determined to sit this one out because this symbolizes so much more than just a preservation of this one park for those who have been involved in these demonstrations. It's becoming, evolving into something that actually is widespread discontent against the government.

We did hear from the prime minister earlier in the day where he was saying this was part of some sort of a conspiracy theory, if you will, by certain groups to try to damage Turkey's economy. Turkey's economy was thriving and has now taken a significant blow because of all of this.

There were also, Hala, supposed to be negotiations that were going to be taking place tomorrow. There was supposed to be a meeting. We spoke with some of the individuals who had been negotiating with the government earlier in the day, and they said you could not have negotiations when this type of action is taking place by the part of riot police.

Hi, how are you?

UNIDENTIFIED TURKEY RESIDENT: I'm kind of fine but tear gas is really awful.

DAMON: Have you been here from the very beginning?

UNIDENTIFIED TURKEY RESIDENT: Yes. I'm here for the very beginning. I was resting for two days until now. I was really affected by the tear gas.

DAMON: Did you think they would tear gas the park after they promised not too?

UNIDENTIFIED TURKEY RESIDENT: Yeah. Yesterday, Sunday, we were waiting for them to attack but the attack started today. It was kind of a surprise. We were still waiting.

DAMON: Are you determined to stay? Are you determined to stay?


DAMON: Are you determined to stay, to stay in park despite all of this that you're going through right now? UNIDENTIFIED TURKEY RESIDENT: I'm going to stay here till it's over because I want to help the people who is (ph) on the front side with police, fighting the police. There's also protesters that are trying to attack the police. We were trying to stop them.

DAMON: You're part of this group that was trying to calm down the tensions between those who were throwing rocks.


DAMON: You were trying to negotiate with the police as well. What do you think then caused what we just saw happen to happen. It was a peaceful demonstration in the park, in Taksim Square.

UNIDENTIFIED TURKEY RESIDENT: Well, police have -- what is the word? Civil police?

DAMON: Civil police, yes.

UNIDENTIFIED TURKEY RESIDENT: Civil police was all around us. And those who were throwing Molotov cocktails were also there. We were trying to stop them. No one go after the police, to attack the police.

DAMON: So, Hala, it's a dynamic and complex situation here. You have a lot of these demonstrators that are part of the Gezi Park demonstration that, to a certain agree, are trying to distance themselves from those that are attacking the police. And then you have the larger crowds that show up here expressing their solidarity with the Gezi Park demonstrators, but also their deep frustration with the Turkish government itself -- Hala?

GORANI: Arwa Damon, stand by. We'll get back to you in just a moment.

First, I want to let our viewers in the United States and elsewhere in the world watching us right now, these are live images coming to up of clashes in Taksim Square in the center of Istanbul. Anti-government demonstrators that were cleared just minutes ago. There are a few remaining, still clashing with riot police. Riot police firing tear gas canister, water cannon as well, doing their best to clear the square. Unclear, as we were discussing this with our reporters, whether it was a preplanned assault by the riot police or if it was sparked by some sort of confrontation.

These demonstrators have said for days that the government of the prime minister is acting more and more in an authoritarian manner. They first started these protests against the destruction of the park nearby where Arwa Damon was broadcasting from. It has morphed, however, into this.

Nick Paton Walsh is at the Istanbul bureau on more of what he is seeing and hearing -- Nick?

WALSH: Hala, a distinct change in what's been happening. I was telling you about police pushing down a road that ran to the left side of Gezi Park. They then suddenly began to pull back, leaving their armored vehicles ahead of them, then the armored vehicles pull back. We've seen the police, like they did a couple of hours ago, just in unison, in one long corner, out of a corner, parking themselves on the other side of the square. That's been followed by protesters marching in unison off that side road, along Gezi Park, trying to get back towards Taksim Square itself.

Vast images you're seeing from our live signal and from the Reuters pictures. They're pushing back to where police have masks. What's the rationale behind that police? A show of strength? Were they hoping to capture ground and weren't able to do that, or was there something other motivation behind this?

But we are seeing the protesters trying to move up, back towards the square. The police are still firing tear gas, but there is that column of them moving slowly towards the far corner of the square over there. Still significant tear gas in the air. They seem to be firing as they go.

Earlier on, we saw police, a particular group of them, it seemed firing in different directions. I think I saw some shells of tear gas being fired towards Gezi Park. I certainly saw those canisters being thrown back out from inside Gezi Park's tree line, suggesting they had gotten in there from the police firing in that direction. Clearly, a scene of panic, I would imagine, inside those trees. Even if tear gas had been wafting in from the square itself, it's incredibly hard to breathe or see and inside that tree line, incredibly dense, intensely packed. People obviously concerned about the eventuality of police moving towards them.

But again, remarkable. The police have upped sticks and left, moving to one particular corner of the square, leaving that question, what has that last scene you've seen the last hour or so been about. A show of strength, encouraging the protesters to perhaps show a more violent side they had, or is this just simply confusion in a situation that is incredibly chaotic and has been for some time?

I'm hearing chanting down side streets here. We've seen a real change in the makeup of this square in a day. The barricades that have held a degree of safety for protesters, making them feel they have been charged by the police for a number of days have been torn away by bulldozers.

You can hear the crowds.


WALSH: They're amassing. They're moving as a group. Scattered but now sizeable in numbers, clear in direction, and converging back again on Taksim Square. I'm looking --

GORANI: Nick --


WALSH: -- at probably 1,000 people on the move. More converging from side streets -- Hala?

GORANI: Nick, these protestors are -- as you said, the chanting protesters you're describing, are they moving toward riot police as we continue to watch these live images coming to us from Istanbul?

WALSH: They are moving in the direction of the riot police. The riot police are, from what I can still see of them a distance behind the smoke, moving to the far corner of the square, almost like the protesters are, in fact, following the police as they reposition themselves or even retreat to a further distance.

We are not hearing as much tear gas being fired just recently. We are hearing the screech of ambulances positioning themselves inside the square. I don't know if that's ominous or simply a bit to try and provide medical care if it's need. After all, that use of tear gas.

But yes, people now not flagging but slowly and increasing in number, moving their way back up towards the square. I can only imagine these are the people who are originally pushed out by the original police advance that we saw earlier -- Hala?

GORANI: There must be fears at this point that, once again, we're going to see flashes and confrontation.

WALSH: Where does this end? They've been doing this all day. I've been watching much of the daylight clashes for about 10 hours. It's subsided into rowdy, festive, calm protests. Suddenly, out of nowhere, that police response. We don't know what actually sparked it.

Yes, they'll almost certainly gather again in the next hour. They may well continue with that rowdy protest they had before, the chanting. The police are moving again, to what end? Each time, we see these charges, it gets a little bit more dangerous. They're heading towards Gezi Park. It's densely populated. It's surrounded by rubble. Bear in mind the geography of this. If people try to leave Gezi Park en masse, there's broken stones, protruding pieces of metal out of the ground, a construction site, if you will for much of the surroundings of it. That's a precarious situation in itself.

But now the numbers of people growing. They're coming from the main street as well in Istanbul, moving back towards the square. One police water cannon there to greet them, firing at some of them. They don't seem deterred by that. You really have to ask, if they gather again in number in the square tonight, do we see a repeat of what we've seen or is there some broader purpose of this standoff -- Hala?

GORANI: And the prime minister promised to meet with some of the demonstrators. It seems as though there was some change today. Turkey, an important country in the region, of course, politically positioning itself in the Syrian civil war. An important American ally as well in that region. All of this going on, certainly, instability and chaos in at least parts of the country as these protestors continue to demonstrate.

Live images coming to us from Taksim in Istanbul. That's where we see Arwa Damon. She is standing by.

Arwa, if you can hear me, tell us what you're seeing right now.

DAMON: Well, we're actually in Gezi Park itself and we're hearing peoples' chants growing louder. They're saying, everywhere is the resistance I believe getting the resistance. My Turkish is a bit rusty.

This park just a short while ago was in fact tear gassed. Bear in mind, the government had promised that it would allow the demonstrators to remain. Many of them coming up to us reminding us this, wanting it put out that the government would said they would be allowed to stay as long as they were peaceful. They claim that they have been all along.

There is a spirit of determination. There is a spirit of solidarity here. People helping each other out when the tear gas gets too intense.

We've also seen a stretcher moving up towards what can be called the front line. If you remember where we were just a short while earlier, it's actually where the Turkish flag is. That is Taksim Square. That has very much become one of the many front lines that exists around this central Istanbul location.

People are now seeming as if they're moving back towards it. They're chanting louder. There are clashes along the streets. Whenever there are clashes, whenever tear gas is fired down from the side streets or even into this location, people encourage others to stay calm. What was quite interesting was, earlier in the day, when these clashes were taking place, not such an intense or widespread level, we did see some demonstrators, calling themselves something like the Gezi Park Originals, trying to calm down tensions between groups that they were calling the stone throwers, the instigators, the people that were insulting and shouting at the riot police, trying to tell them to calm down, stay back. They did not want these demonstrations to become violent. Also trying to calm the riot police down. There are a lot of different dimensions to what is happening in Istanbul right now -- Hala?

GORANI: All right.

Just a reminder to our viewers, what they're seeing now, Arwa Damon is reporting from ground level. Right now, she's in Gezi Park, by our Nick Paton Walsh, who is also in Istanbul, overlooking Taksim Square.

These are live dramatic images coming to us from Istanbul as anti- government protests continue in that country into their second week. These demonstrators are saying the prime minister is acting in an authoritarian way. He's trying to impose his vision of what Turkey should be on an entire country. All of that being said, remember, this is a democratically elected government, and the prime minister certainly has his supporters in this country.

What is going on in Taksim Square right now, illustrating a divide in Turkey. A very important country strategically, politically, economically. It has weathered the economic storms over the last several years, Turkey has. Right now, it is going through certainly somewhat of a crisis.

Nick Paton Walsh is in our Istanbul bureau with more on how important what is unfolding for Turkey and also to the region -- Nick?

PATON WALSH: Hala, of course, these are the scenes which, similar to those at the beginning of the protests, which inspired U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to condemn much of the heavy handed police response. Of course, sending that much tear gas into a crowd like that, hazardous to say the least.

Since we last spoke, Hala, we were saying what's going to happen now. This crowd is moving back towards the square. It's simple. The police find another volley of tear gas right at them, causing them to scatter yet again. But one again, they've ran into side streets and turned, and they've begun chanting and moving forward. You're seeing a green flare being held up by one of the protesters. Another familiar crack of tear gas just behind me. But how does this process end? Do they continue to get pushed back by tear gas and then move in again? We are increasingly, I think, clear that tear gas has been fired into Gezi Park itself.

Here you go. Those bangs, not tear gas, but instead fireworks. That's been a consistent theme here. We've seen fireworks going. There are some elements of celebration, you might say. That's been fired up. There were some quite ingeniously engineered devices. They seem to be firing fireworks at the police directly from behind protesters. That was something that the Istanbul governor himself used as a justification for some of the police intervention here.

But those fireworks going off, that's a sign of the times certainly. And from what I've seen, some water cannons firing water out and perhaps trying to suppress differently.