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THE SITUATION ROOM
Riot Police Unleash on Turkish Protesters
Aired June 11, 2013 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news -- violent clashes right in the heart of Istanbul, as police fire water cannons and clouds of tear gas has sent thousands of protesters fleeing. We have full coverage.
CNN's Arwa Damon and Nick Paton Walsh, they are both right in the thick of it all. They are on the scene. And we have expert analysis from CNN's Christiane Amanpour and Fareed Zakaria.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: The breaking news we're following, tens of thousands forced to flee as police fire giant clouds of tear gas and water cannons on demonstrations in Turkey's Taksim Square, right in the heart of Istanbul. From there, mass chaos. Thousands of protesters refusing to be deterred. They launched fireworks. They piled back into the Square, amid balls of fire and loud bangs.
CNN senior international correspondent, Arwa Damon, and CNN's Nick Paton Walsh, they are both right in the middle of it all. They have been for the past several hours. They are even being forced to put on gas masks to continue their reporting for all of us.
They're joining us, along with our chief international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour -- Arwa, first to you.
Set the scene.
What's going on?
Because it's been awful. The stakes clearly enormous.
We just lost Arwa for a second.
We're going to get back to Arwa. Nick Paton Walsh, let's go to Nick first -- Nick, what do you see?
NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the latest moves we've seen behind us here, the police have sent bulldozers into the Taksim Square area ahead of Gezi Park. Now that sounds incremental, but it's key, because it shows they're positioning to clear away much of the debris left from protester barricades. There have been fires there, as well. We have been wondering what precisely is the goal of the police presence here. I think they're looking to clear that area up. They are maintaining a presence in the central Square.
Key, the smoke billowing across the Square at the moment is, it seems, from a fire, an excavator which has been torched near Gezi Park, part of the construction equipment working around to end a barricade fire, as well.
We haven't seen much tear gas. I hasten -- I'm cautious to say that because, obviously, every time I do, we hear another volley.
In the past 10, 15 minutes, police did take up position and fire a substantial amount in the direction on one of the roads leading down past Gezi Park. At this point, we are hearing protest chanting. But the emphasis for police right now seems to be amassing in that area of Taksim Square in front of Gezi Park and before you reach the main street of Istiklal here -- Wolf.
BLITZER: We're showing our viewers, Nick, live pictures now from Taksim Square. We see a lot of trucks there. We see some lights. Obviously, a very tense situation. It's already just past midnight local time in Istanbul.
Is -- are we expecting an escalation in the coming hours?
WALSH: It's hard to predict. This has been volatile. There are still hundreds, if not thousands, of protesters in the side streets around here, which appear to be into battles with the police. And, of course, the outstanding question, what is the fate of the hundreds, if not thousands, of protesters inside Gezi Park itself, an area of greenery, trees, the very heart of the city here, which has been the beginning of the protests. Conservationists wanting it to be demolished to make room for a mall or a museum, whatever the precise government plan actually was for it.
But behind me now, there has been a temporary lull. We were seeing, during the night, protesters surging back toward police after the tear gas had been fired at them, had dissipated in the wind. That hasn't happened for a couple of hours now.
But the question people are asking is, what is the police strategy here?
I've been standing here for about 16 hours watching clashes. Only a brief lull when a peaceful protest took place. Thousands of people then dissipated, forced to flee because of a massive volley of police tear gas. We haven't yet seen, it seems, a strategy to hold the ground that police are advancing toward. And people are beginning to answer -- ask the question, why are we seeing these images for such a sustained period?
Surely the police had longer to plan for this, how to deal with a reasonably ragtag disorganized bunch of protesters -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And this is right, all happening in the heart of Istanbul, Nick. This is a major facility, a major park there right near all the so many hotels. Tourism, I assume, has dried up virtually completely as a result of what's going on, a lot of people canceling their trips to Turkey right now.
Give us a little sense of perspective, Nick, because you're there.
How significant is this area to Istanbul?
WALSH: The main street, Istiklal, ends here. Taksim Square one of the key landmarks at the center here, Gezi an extension from that. The main hotels around here; government buildings, too. A very important part of the city, certainly its commercial heart.
You say tourism has dried up. Actually, last night I was walking through and there were some tourists in evidence, attracted by what had begun to feel like a relaxed sense of permanence amongst the protesters, certainly inside Gezi Park itself. Even a fashion shoot, I saw taking place inside one of the burned out buses the protesters had left to block the road.
We were wondering at that point, though, the numbers dropping in Taksim Square to virtually -- virtually no protesters and less inside the cabin (ph) itself, would the police take advantage of those lower numbers to make a move?
And at 8:00 this morning, that's precisely what they did, almost strolling in initially. But pretty soon, that gave way to clashes. An organized hard core of protesters ready to meet them -- Molotov cocktails, rocks, even an elaborate firework firing device which seemed to be aimed at police ranks, too.
The Istanbul governor has used the firing of fireworks by protesters as justification for some of the police tactics. There seemed to be a back and forth that went on for hours, the police never quit willing to escalate too much force, not quite as heavy-handed as we've seen at the beginning of these clashes, heavy-handedness having fueled so much of the protests.
But the real question was exactly why did they fire that volley of tear gas, which, during the middle of a peaceful protest, caused thousands of people to literally run for their safety all across this increasingly dark square -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Nick, stand by.
I want to continue showing our viewers these live pictures coming from Taksim Square, right in the heart of in Istanbul, Turkey. Clearly, a major NATO ally of the United States. There's lots at stake right now. Christiane Amanpour and Fareed Zakaria are both joining us for some analysis -- Christiane, you look at these pictures, you can't help but say is this a repetition of what we saw in Tahrir Square in Cairo?
Within a matter of only a few days, it led to the end of the Mubarak regime.
Give us some perspective on what's going on in Turkey.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, HOST: Well, interesting you ask that, because, obviously, people looking from the outside are wondering precisely that. It's significant that the prime minister, Erdogan, said that this is no Turkish Spring. And I, today, asked the former British foreign secretary, Jack Straw, who just happened to have been in Istanbul during most of these protests. He also didn't think that that is what this represents. Nobody really thinks that this is the case right now.
But clearly, you know, this is the first major challenge to Prime Minister Erdogan.
He's in his third term. He's in -- been in office for about 11 years. And they're trying to figure out now they're going to deal with it.
I spoke to his chief adviser earlier, who said that the protesters will be allowed to stay in Gezi Park. That is the green area in Taksim. He said they'll be allowed to stay there...
BLITZER: Christiane, hold on.
Christiane, hold on for a second, because it looks like there's some major activity going on with police.
Let me bring back Nick Paton Walsh for a moment -- Nick, what's happening right now?
WALSH: Wolf, so I'm holding my tear gas in my hand, because we have just seen now an armored police vehicle moving down toward the left hand side of Gezi Park, a road partially under construction there, concrete, blocked off by protester barricades, behind which they have been amassing. Just a couple of -- 10 seconds ago, a minute, a massive volley of tear gas from the police in that direction. And now one, two, three -- I'm going to put this gas mask on, I'm afraid.
A significant number of vehicles heading in that direction. It is clear the police want to move down toward that barricade. It is the last remaining stronghold of protests outside of Gezi Park itself that we can actually see.
And when that tear gas is fired...
WALSH: -- it does waft across the Square toward our (INAUDIBLE). And forgive the obvious difficulty you may have in hearing me here.
But this is the first we've seen in about an hour of a concerted effort by the police to advance toward protesters' positions.
And that is happening down the side. A water cannon now being used by the police to push back protesters. And there has, of course, been a fire burning there for quite some time now, Wolf.
But yet again, this tactic of surging toward protesters, trying to get them to disperse using tear gas and other means.
And then we have to ask, are they going to try and hold that particular road?
Do they have a strategy to retain control or yet again, will they move back and then finally see protesters retake that area again -- Wolf?
BLITZER: If that tear gas is reaching you, Nick, you may want to strap that mask, as you're doing right now, because otherwise, you're going to be in trouble.
Hold on for a moment.
Arwa Damon is on the scene for us, as well -- Arwa, you're joining us on the phone.
Do you have a mask on yourself?
ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we're basically, right now, on the other side of where Nick is reporting from, standing in the park that is actually above that street that the tear gas is being fired down.
And as Nick was reporting that, masses of people running back into the park, trying to stay away from those fumes. And they really have it down to something of a science. They will run away from where the tear gas is getting close to them. People will already be lined up and ready with this white peppermint smelling fluid that they spray into your eyes. And it really helps to ease the sting.
And then they erupt in chants and then slowly move back forward.
And this has been pretty much what we've been seeing all night.
We were also down in the Square this evening, Wolf, when tens of thousands of people had converged and the riot police, at that point, actually seemed as if they were relaxed. That's what we were reporting.
Some sort of altercation broke out right in front of us between a small group of protesters and the riot police. And within seconds, that erupted into full scale chaos, with the tear gas being fired, with -- I don't know if you heard inside, as well, the crowds around me now (INAUDIBLE). But that really, the altercation is what led to this massive crackdown that we saw by the riot police.
They didn't physically enter Gezi Park, but they did, with great con -- fired tear gas into it. And it is a pretty densely populated area, the demonstrations (INAUDIBLE) you can just imagine the chaos that that creates every single time that actually takes place -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Tear gas clearly in the air. You can see Nick Paton Walsh with that gas mask on.
Arwa Damon, stand by for a moment.
Christiane, Fareed, stand by, as well.
We're showing our viewers here in the United States and around the world what's going on right in the heart of Istanbul right now. This is a major U.S. ally, a NATO ally. And what's going on right now is ugly.
We'll have continuing coverage, right after this.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.
BLITZER: We're following the breaking news out of Turkey. These are live pictures you're seeing right now. It's after midnight in Istanbul where police have just come in with more tear gas, water cannon. This is a dangerous situation. There are thousands of protesters on the ground right now in Taksim Square. That's right in the heart of Istanbul.
Arwa Damon and Nick Paton Walsh, they're on the ground for us. We'll have analysis from Fareed Zakaria and Christiane Amanpour. But Arwa, let me go back with you right now, tell our viewers who may just be tuning it if they're watching in the United States or around the world, what's going on right now because there had been a lull, but all of a sudden, the violence has picked up.
VOICE OF ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And that, really, has been the trend ever since these demonstrations began and there's certainly something that has been outfight (ph) throughout the day today. I am on the edge of Gezi Park. That is right above the road that that tear gas is currently being fired down. Demonstrators are out chanting right now that everywhere is Taksim, everywhere is their resistance.
And you're hearing more of that sort of language where people are describing themselves increasingly as being the resistance against the government because if you will remember, this did all begin because of a government project to turn this park that many view as being the last green space in the heart of Istanbul into a shopping mall. And then, because of the excessive use of force by the riot police, these demonstrations have then taken on a life of their own.
And they're about much more than trying to protect this park. They're about demanding an end to what Prime Minister Erdogan's opponents view as being his increasingly authoritarian rule as his government (INAUDIBLE). Their conservative, Islamic ideations on the entire nation, and it's really up until now is target itself and -- defined itself as being a -- country --
BLITZER: Arwa, hold on for a moment. Arwa, just hold on for one moment, because Nick Paton Walsh, he's got an excellent view of what's going on. Clearly, the demonstrators moving in. You see the fire. Nick Paton Walsh is wearing a gas mask because of all of the tear gas right now. Nick, narrate a little bit, describe what's going on. We're showing our viewers these live pictures from Taksim Square.
VOICE OF NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You're seeing those armored vehicles move away from what was a protest, a barricade blocking access to the left-hand side road that goes down the edge of Gezi Park. Now, about five minutes ago, police moved in heavily. A lot of tear gas fired. Two fire engines coming in behind those armored vehicles. There were some fires there, an excavator on fire for nearly an hour. They were clearly trying to move in in that direction.
Now, we don't know if they turned back because the protesters simply put up too much resistance or whether we're, in fact, looking at them having accomplished what they wanted to and moving back instead. But a massive volley of tear gas that we haven't heard for quite some particular time. And you begin to get a sense of what the police strategy is here.
They seem to want to move down that particular road. They have amassed excavators, bulldozers on the central part of Taksim Square over there. You are just hearing ambulances moving in. One of the big questions about this is how many people have been injured in these clashes. Let me just pause and let you hear the protesters.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Hey, nick, we see a bulldozer right in the heart of Taksim Square right now. I don't know what that bulldozer is getting ready to do. Do you have any idea what it's doing there and what's going on with that bulldozer?
WALSH: There is a lot of debris in the center of that square, some of it from barricades, some of it from fires. It's burning previously. They obviously want to clear away the barricade that instruct the police's ability to move in on protesters. We've seen them do that around here in the area surrounding the live position where we are for much of the day.
I think part of the police strategy is to clear as many thoroughfares through and around as they can at this particular time, and those bulldozers are clearly putting some of that into effect. But it does keep getting interrupted by volleys of tear gas, surges (ph) from protesters. You're seeing less of that in the past hour or so, certainly, around where I'm standing.
But you heard there the chanting of protesters, their morale still evident, a lot of anger. And we're really going to have to see in the hours ahead if police are beginning to get a lid on this or, in fact, actually, we're just going to see the standoff continuing in other areas. Wolf, I have to apologize, I do have to pause between sentences to take breath through this gas mask.
BLITZER: Yes. You got to -- as one who has reported with a gas mask myself, you got to make sure the straps are really tight, otherwise, you're going to be in trouble. You're going to start coughing pretty soon. So, you might want to tighten up those straps around your head, Nick. Stand by for a moment, because I want to continue showing our viewers.
You see that bulldozer right there, right in the heart of Taksim Square. Fareed Zakaria, you're watching what's going on. How would you describe this situation that's unfolding? Clearly, a major crisis for Turkey.
FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN'S FAREED ZAKARIA GPS: Wolf, it's a major crisis. This is, if you want an analogy, this is Chicago in 1968. This is a huge culture clash in a Democratic country. Prime Minister Erdogan has been elected three times, but remember, he has never received more than 50 percent of the popular vote. The way Turkish parliamentary democracy works. He has a majority in parliament, but there's 50 percent of the country that is deeply distrustful.
And what you see here is a huge culture clash. The Anatolian groups that have voted for Prime Minister Erdogan very different from the Istanbul more secular, more urban groups over here. So, there's a culture clash at work here. We saw it in 1968 in the United States in Chicago, in cities around the country. It's happened in other places. But the actual development, the spark that led to this is about the development of Taksim Square.
But there's something much, much deeper going on here. It's two Turkeys that are coming to head in Taksim Square, two very different countries with a very different vision of the future.
BLITZER: Hold on for a moment, Fareed. Nick, you've taken off your gas mask. Has the tear gas moved away? Is it OK for you to be there without your gas mask?
WALSH: That seems to be the case. It's always hard to work out whether we're having gas from the fires blown towards us, smoke from the fires or fresh amounts of tear gas. So, it's better (ph) to take the mask as soon as you do just hearing it. Now, in fact, tear gas again being fired again by the riot police. It's always a gamble when it blows towards us.
That clean-up in Gezi Park, before Gezi Park on the square in front of it, still continuing. The bulldozer you talked about earlier on. And we're trying to work out quite what the police's next move really is. The tear gas that they seem to be firing it down that road I was referring to alongside Gezi Park, protesters are very good at throwing it back.
They've just been doing that as well. You can hear those repeated shots. It's one of the things we really noted here that the use of tear gas sometimes feels indiscriminate. It's filed in a general direction. They seem to fire a lot in a particular time to completely disable an area or remove people out from it. In Ankara, the capital, people came up to me showing here tear gas rounds, in fact, hit their body -- a wound in the face, a wound on his arm.
Many people injured people by those fast flying large rounds as they hurtled through the air. Many of them, in fact, have come near where we're standing at this particular point. So, a lot of concern for safety of protesters. You can hear that again. You can see, I think now, perhaps, some water cannons being fired at this particular point towards the protesters.
Those armored that are called tomah trucks, armored water cannon trucks, designed to disrupt protests been all over Turkey for the last 12 days. They're moving again towards protesters down there. Still that question sustaining Wolf, what is the end game? How are they going to get control of this area?
BLITZER: Yes. We're hearing a lot of volleys of tear gas --
BLITZER: We're hearing a lot of that, Nick, that's being fired together with the water cannon. This situation is clearly escalating right now, even though it's approaching 12:30 a.m. local time, well after midnight in Istanbul. And Nick, I want you to stand by for a moment. Fareed is standing by.
Christiane Amanpour is with us as well, and Arwa Damon is on the ground in Istanbul. We'll take a quick break. Much more of the breaking news right after this.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.
BLITZER: Breaking news coming out of Turkey right now. Taksim Square, police have just moved in once again firing tear gas, water cannons, trying to disburse crowds, thousands of protesters on the ground right now. They are not leaving despite all the tear gas and the water cannon, the bulldozers that have moved in as well.
This is a clearly very dangerous situation. Nick Paton Walsh, you were just wearing a gas mask. Is it OK for you to be reporting without that gas mask right now? Well, actually, you got the gas mask on.
WALSH: I tell you, Wolf, I'm afraid each time the situation seems to change around me. We've just seen another volley of tear gas being launched. It appears they are moving towards more protesters. Unfortunately, with this gas mask, I can't get a particularly accurate view. But the issue has become the road to the left of Gezi Park has a barricade along it blocked by protesters, much of it on fire.
They've surged towards it firing tear gas, that's the police, and using their armored water cannon trucks and then had to beat the retreat. So, I think what we're seeing now is another volley of tear gas in the general direction of the protesters. Sometimes, that's what's most alarming that it doesn't seem to be specific, precise targets, it's a desire (ph) to make life very unpleasant. I think many people when they look back on it may ask the question precisely why were those hardcore few protesters who violently did attack, and we've seen that today - violently did attack the police, why were they not particularly picked out by the police and arrested? And why were the heavy-handed tactics we've seen put upon the entirety of the crowd here? Many of these protesters are calm, peaceful, simply exercising the freedom to assemble, Wolf.
So many questions to be answered tonight. I think the most pressing one is all this chaos behind me, who hasn't left injured? Many concerned about that.
BLITZER: Christiane Amanpour, what do these protesters really want?
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's several varying different protest groups, but I think importantly we need to state exactly what the government is saying about what's going on right now. What you're seeing and what we've been witnessing over the last several hours is Taksim Square does not seem to be full of protesters. You can see that image right now. Taksim Square is not. It's police there. And this is because the mayor of Istanbul issued a terse statement on television tonight saying that he hoped people would just go home for their own safety and that they would use, quote, "unremitting police moves to clean Taksim Square as long as it took." Day and night he said, we will have the police to clean Taksim Square.
On the other hand, the chief adviser to Prime Minister Erdogan told me not so long ago that the protesters will be allowed to stay in Gezi Park and that the police will not have access to Gezi Park. We'll see whether that ends up being the case. But what they're trying to do is say, okay, these areas are designated for protest, and these areas have to be cleaned up. Whether or not that works, we'll see. But that's what the government is saying.
The government is also saying that Prime Minister Erdogan wants to meet with what he calls the legitimate protesters tomorrow. Those are the people who he calls the environmentalists and others who started what was a peaceful protest at the end of May because of government plans to turn the only green area in that place, Gezi Park, into some kind of development, some kind of construction. Anyway, a whole new project. So they say, at least his advisers, that they still intend to have that meeting tomorrow. We'll see who turns up for that meeting and whether or not it will diffuse the situation.
As Nick has said, obviously the police tactics are designed or should be designed to move what they call their violent protesters away from the legitimate protesters. So far, we haven't seen that happen quite as well as it should in regular policing. So, this is something that started as a peaceful protest that quickly spread around much of the country for the first week or so. People using this first protest to mushroom their demands into more, you know, discontent with what they see as a more authoritarian Prime Minister Erdogan.
BLITZER: And we're showing our viewers live pictures from what's happening rights now in Taksim Square in Istanbul. You see Nick Paton Walsh has his gas mask on because of all of the tear gas and smoke that is in the area right now. You hear a lot of chanting right now. Nick, while I have you over there, what's the latest?
WALSH: We are hearing what sounds like the bulldozers moving in to try and clear some of the debris in that square. I think that's what I hear. I'm seeing a red flare near some of the barricades to -- it's a major challenge for police here if they wish to end the evening with some semblance of normality, some sort of reward for all this chaos for them. At the end, they are going to need to get rid of a lot of this debris.
Down here below the (INAUDIBLE) where we're standing, we've seen a lot of the debris just pushed to the side into underground cavities. But the real issue is going to be how fast they can do that over there and what level of resistance they get from protesters. Down below me, missiles being thrown back and forth. A very chaotic situation, frankly.
You have to bear in mind how difficult it is for protesters here to simply sometimes seek -- there's tear gas in a lot of the places. And this is pretty much a construction site. There is rubble everywhere, there are metal objects sticking out of the ground and very little light where can you work out where to run. So, a perilous situation indeed. The question is who actually was injured tonight, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, be careful over there. Nick, I'm going to get back to you in a moment.
Fareed is standing by as well as Arwa Damon. You see that bulldozer moving right through the center. They're trying to apparently get rid of that debris, but protesters are still there. You hear the water cannons and you're also hearing some tear gas volleys going forward right now.
Let's take a quick break and resume the breaking news coverage right after this.
BLITZER: We're going to -- you're looking at live pictures right from Istanbul, from Taksim Square where more tear gas volleys are being fired, water cannons, bulldozers right in the middle of Istanbul. Arwa Damon is right in the middle of it all, watching what's going on. Arwa, update us on the very, very latest because this situation seems to be escalating.
ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (on the phone): Well, we're right on the edge of Gezi Park where tear gas is being fired. We are perched right above it; the (INAUDIBLE) is right below. We saw a group of people running past us. (INAUDIBLE) We haven't seen them returning just yet.
And then we also are next to this makeshift studio that's been set up by the demonstrators where they're streaming everything that's happening live because they're so upset with the way the media has been covering things, they are telling us. We can also hear people chanting, the sounds coming from down below getting significantly louder. A lot of people crowded around watching, you can hear the clapping. The crowd is getting heated up as they feel like they may be able to (INAUDIBLE) what's happening.
You know what's interesting, Wolf, is a lot of the people that we've been talking to here have been very quick to point out that up until now, they weren't necessarily political. Many of them weren't really active or involved in anything up until all of this happened. And most of these people here, they have day jobs. They'll go to them during the day, they'll come out at night and they'll tell us, look, this isn't about the park anymore, it's about (INAUDIBLE). There's a lot of anger towards the government and how it's handled everything.
Here amongst the demonstrators in Gezi Park, there's also a real sense of solidarity. People -- the minute the tear gas was fired, Wolf, they'll be ready with these bottles of a white liquid that's an antiacid that goes into your eye that eases out the sting of it. They have also got (INAUDIBLE) set up for (INAUDIBLE) their own makeshift medical spaces. They've had a fair amount of injuries. You see people of all ages here, young and old. You name it. And a lot of the demonstrators are telling us (INAUDIBLE) there's no turning back (INAUDIBLE).
BLITZER: All right Arwa, hold on for a moment. I want to go back to Nick. He's got a good view. We see police are gearing up for something right now. Nick, what's happening? Because it looks like they're getting ready to move on demonstrators.
WALSH: That's right. We've just heard -- there you would have heard -- that is another stun grenade. A volley of tear gas now being fired to force protesters. These police emerged from behind the main monument in the square, took up cover behind that armored vehicle, and now they are moving quite forcefully in the direction of Gezi Park from what I can make out. Those tear gas rounds seem to be being fired roughly in that direction. There are also protesters nearby in the road, one side behind the barricade.
It's hard to tell their precise target, but it looks like it's going to land pretty close to Gezi Park. And as Arwa's been saying, if that tear gas even gets near you, it highly effective. I've got my gas mask in my hand. I may have to put it on shortly. But we are seeing a lot of tear gas now. Let me just pause so you can take in those images.
BLITZER: Nick, I just want to be clear. The police say they want all the protesters out of Taksim Square, but supposedly they were going to let the protesters stay at nearby Gezi Park. What you're saying now is they seem to be moving these police with tear gas toward Gezi Park to remove the protesters from there?
WALSH: It's extraordinarily hard to tell their targets (INAUDIBLE). It's dark and there's a lot of smoke. The volleys I've been seeing seem to be headed in the direction of Gezi. There's also the barricade close to Gezi and the road running along the road beside it. That could also have been their target. That's been a main point of friction in the past couple of hours of protesters.
And there are hundreds, in fact. I got a glimpse earlier one, camped out behind those barricades there. , But that large amount of tear goes now blowing across the square. Again, and it seems the police facing directionally, from what I can tell, towards Gezi -- though you are correct to point out, Wolf, this confusing government stance. Do they want everybody out of the square as the mayor suggests, including perhaps Gezi? That was undefined or as advised (INAUDIBLE) prime minister, says Christiane, are they going to let those in Gezi stay where they are?
You've got to remember, Gezi is I would describe incredibly, tightly packed people in there. (INAUDIBLE) ropes everywhere, artificial infrastructure like a library (ph), (INAUDIBLE). It's a utopian kind of alternative society. It's not ready for people to march in like riot police at this particular point. So you have to worry about casualties if you do and force your way into somewhere like Gezi. We just don't quite know what this police movement is about. And it seems, like we often seen, to have lulled slightly. They move in, they fight tear gas, and then there's a pause. Where do they go now? Wolf.
BLITZER: Fareed, tell our viewers in the United States why what we're seeing -- these are live pictures from Istanbul right now -- what we're seeing is so important potentially to the United States and other NATO allies.
FAREED ZAKARIA, HOST, FAREED ZAKARIA GPS: What we are witnessing is a political conflict in Turkey that is like a culture war. It not a real war but it is a culture war. And Turkey, as you say, is a key NATO ally. It has also been the model emerging market. Investors for the last 10 years have loved Turkey.
What you see here is underneath that surface are pro-Westernism, European modernity and stability and economic is an immature democracy. You have two very different groups. Those who voted for the prime minister, Prime Minister Erdogan, those who didn't. And what you're seeing is a kind of 1968-type clash.
It's very much a clash between classes, between social groups and between political parties that have very different visions of the country. And what they have -- what unites this opposition, some of whom are secularists, some of whom are environmentalist, some of whom are, you know, even left-wing types, is the feeling that Prime Minister Erdogan has turned into a kind of elected authoritarian, has turned into a kind of elected czar, a dictator.
And by doing what he's doing in Taksim Square, he's feeding this very -- this very feeling. Remember, Erdogan thinks he's knows this problem very well. He was the mayor of Istanbul. That's how he became politically powerful. He was elected mayor, very popular. But he's been in office 11 years, Wolf. And sometimes that can make people believe that they have more power, more control than they actually do.
BLITZER: And it all started with a demonstration protesting the construction of a mall in a park. But look what's going on right now. Look at that tear gas that's being fired as police move from Taksim Square elsewhere, maybe to Gezi Park.
We're watching what's going on. We'll take a quick break. Much more of the coverage right after this.
BLITZER: We're right back to Taksim Square. Looks like the situation is escalating. Bulldozers, tear gas, water cannon. Police moving on demonstrators. Angry at the Turkish government.
Nick Paton Walsh is right there in the middle of it all.
Nick, tell us what you're seeing right now because you're wearing that gas mask. I hope it's firmly attached to you right now. I don't want you to breathe in any of that tear gas.
NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, what we are seeing at the moment is -- we talked earlier on a few minutes ago about what looked like riot police shooting at Gezi Park. They seemed more focused on the road next to it. Of course that smoke will be wafting all over this area.
Since then, as we've seen quite regularly, the police moved back towards the main part of Taksim Square. We're not quite sure why they chose to do that. And now we are seeing bulldozers fully in evidence in central Taksim clearing away some of the debris.
So still the question really remains, what is the police end game and strategy here? What part of this central square are they trying to hold onto? Or are they looking to try and clear people from Gezi have been confused signals from the government about that. And exactly how much longer will this standoff continue? And how much longer will these images be broadcast around the world which are doing nothing positive for Turkey's tourist economy and the breakaway growth that's experienced in the past decade --Wolf.
BLITZER: And our viewers are watching this here in the United States and around the world right now. I'm getting a lot of tweets, in fact, from people in Istanbul and Ankara, elsewhere in Turkey. They're watching CNN International and our live coverage of the demonstrations and the police reaction in Istanbul right now.
Stay with us for a moment, Nick.
Fareed is with us. Christiane is with us. Arwa Damon is over there as well. Let's take a quick break. Resume the coverage after this.
BLITZER: Police in Istanbul trying to clear out Taksim Square where protesters have massed their tear gas, there's water cannons and others. Some speculation they may, may be moving to the nearby Gezi Park.
Arwa Damon is on the scene for us over there.
There are -- there are thousands of protesters at Gezi Park, as I take it. What's going on, Arwa?
ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There really are, Wolf. There are a couple of different things to show. The street (INAUDIBLE) is being fired at is actually right underneath where all of those people are lined up. I don't know if you can really see them from here because there's not a lot of light. And whenever the tear gas gets fired down that road, all of the spectators end up moving back into the area that is the rest of the busy park and up against Taksim Square itself.
You really can't differentiate the two. There's also medical crews that are out here on standby. And if we swing around just to show you this side, this is where all the tents are set up, where people are gathering.
And then something quite interesting happening over here as well. The demonstrators have set up a makeshift TV studio where they're live streaming their own demonstration TV channel. Because they're so frustrated the way that they say Turkish media has been reporting all of this. And a lot of these demonstrators are young professionals. They actually go to their jobs during the day. They come back here, they demonstrate at night.
A lot of them obviously staying up very, very late tonight. And a lot of them very quick to tell us that, you know, they were apolitical up until now. But it is because of the way that the government has chosen to handle these demonstrations from the very beginning that they feel that right now they have to take a much, much more determined stance. We keep hearing chants of, "This is only the beginning." The resistance is going to keep carrying on.
And there are still thousands of people here, Wolf, down on the street strewn out throughout the park itself.
BLITZER: Arwa, just stay with us for a moment. I want to show our viewers these live pictures coming in from Taksim Square. We've got live pictures coming in from Gezi Park.
You saw Arwa, she's got her gas mask ready to go if the teargas gets too close. Nick Paton Walsh, he's got his gas mask on right now. This is a very, very tense and dangerous situation. Our coverage continues in a minute.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We're following the breaking news here in THE SITUATION ROOM. I'm Wolf Blitzer here in Washington. We once again want to welcome our viewers in United States and around the world. Protest against a key U.S. ally boiling over right now. Riot police have renewed their attacks on demonstrators in Istanbul. Turkey, they've been firing tear gas, water cannons, stun grenades. Earlier they forced tens of thousands of people to flee. Local officials say the assault won't stop until Taksim Square is completely clear and calm.
Let's go to Arwa Damon. She's on the scene for us in nearby Gezi Park. These pictures are very, very disturbing.
What's the latest for our viewers? Arwa, what are you seeing?
DAMON: Well, a lot of the action that's taking place, the standoff between the demonstrators and riot police is happening on this street. Right below where we are on the very edge of Gezi Park. I'm not entirely certain you can see it. The camera (INAUDIBLE) but there's people that are lined up on the edge of Gezi Park watching what's happening down below. They hear when the demonstrators advance.