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One dead in Istanbul as Turkey anti-government protests flare

Friday, 23 May 2014 - 9:37am IST | Place: Istanbul | Agency: AFP

One man died and about 10 others were injured in Istanbul during violent clashes between police and protesters on Thursday, officials said, in the latest eruption of anger against the Turkish government.

"Unfortunately we have not been able to save Ugur Kurt," Istanbul governor Huseyin Avni Mutlu wrote on Twitter, several hours after the 30-year-old was brought to hospital with a gunshot wound to the head. He had said previously that "two civilians have been wounded, one seriously, as well as eight police officers".

Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc earlier said that Kurt had been attending a funeral ceremony when police cracked down on some 50 protesters in the Okmeydani district, the scene of sporadic clashes. Arinc's comments suggested that the victim, a father of one, was hit by a stray bullet fired by a police officer during the clashesthe latest in a string of protests fuelled by rising anger against the government. Video footage showed the father-of-one falling to the ground with an apparent head wound.

"If one of our citizens, who has nothing to do with the events, is injured by a stray bullet fired by a policeman, I would like to see anyone who is involved in this incident immediately be brought into account," Arinc said. He said that a bullet lodged in the man's head as well as guns used by police would be examined by prosecutors appointed to investigate the incident.

Violence erupted when police fired live ammunition as well as tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse protesters who denounced the death of a teenage boy who fell into a coma during anti-government unrest last year. The demonstrators, also protesting over last week's mine disaster in the western Turkish town of Soma, responded by hurling stones and Molotov cocktails at police and setting fire to an armoured police vehicle. The security forces fired on the crowd, witnesses told AFP in accounts that confirmed press reports.

'You are assassins'

Clashes continued through the night as angry protesters hurled petrol bombs, blocked roads and burned tyres to fend off police officers, according to an AFP photographer. Some 400 protesters massed around the hospital where Ugur Kurt died, chanting "you are assassins" and "the murderer state takes another life".

Tensions are high in Turkey 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. 

Eight people, including the teenage boy and at least one policeman, died as a result of the 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.

The government crackdown earned Turkey a harsh rebuke from its Western allies.

Sporadic protests have continued against controversial measures taken by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in response to a massive corruption scandal implicating key government allies, including an internet crackdown that saw Twitter banned for two weeks. 

The mine tragedy – the worst in the country's history – has caused a new wave of fury against Erdogan ahead of an expected run for the presidency in August. Protesters clashed with police in several cities after Erdogan played down the incident by comparing it to mining disasters from 19th-century Britain, and photographs emerged of one of his aides kicking a protester.

Despite the protests, the corruption scandal and Erdogan's perceived authoritarianism, the premier's Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party scored a resounding victory in March 30 local elections. Erdogan is expected to announce in the coming days his intention to stand for president.


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