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Turkish Protesters Clash With Police; Tense Standoff in Istanbul

Aired June 11, 2013 - 18:00   ET


ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They hear when the demonstrators advance, as it seems like what's happening now. They do.

When the tear gas is fired, quite often, they will stream back in our collection if the tear gas gets too intense. And they have really got this down to something of a science, because once they hit this area, there will be other people here waiting, pouring this liquid into their eyes. It's a white liquid that's actually an antacid (INAUDIBLE) with water.

And they're chanting (INAUDIBLE) referring to the prime minister, resign right now. And then over here, of course, you have Gezi Park itself. You have the tents in the background. There's a makeshift medical area that has been set up.

Over here, something quite interesting. It's a TV studio that the demonstrators put together where they're streaming what's happening live. They keep bringing in guests to it because they have been so frustrated at how Turkish media has been portraying them. They say -- portraying them -- a lot of the people that are out here, Wolf, they are young professionals. They have day jobs.

They are (INAUDIBLE) working in I.T. We met a group of young men who were painters. They're engineers. And they say that a lot of them were apolitical before this all began, that it's because of how the government, they say, decided to handle these demonstrations, cracked down so hard when they first all began that now they feel as if it's their point in time where they have to come out and take a stance as well.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Arwa, stand by for a moment.

Nick Paton Walsh is over at Taksim Square, where the demonstrators were out by the thousands earlier.

What's happening right there, Nick?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we're seeing a bit of a pattern circle here.

There's sort of an elaborate dance of bulldozers and pickup trucks trying to clear the debris away from the main square in front of me here. But down again that key road to the left of Gezi Park, where Arwa is, there remain -- I can see probably about 100 protesters there in the smoke, often the recipients of volleys of tear gas from the riot police.

They're behind barricades. And we have seen police surged towards them a couple of times now, unsuccessfully trying to move them on, you might imagine. But as this night -- I have been watching this now for about 17 hours. As this night continues on, it's clear the goal is to get as much of the debris away from the central Taksim Square as possible.

And they continue to do this cat-and-mouse thing on the side road on the left of Gezi Park. They are surging in, firing a lot of tear gas, and then pulling back. Let's pause. And you can hear a lot of that debris being moved now by bulldozers.

BLITZER: And clearly, Nick, you're wearing that gas mask because of all the smoke and the tear gas that is still in the area in Taksim Square where you are. Is that right? It would be dangerous to just be breathing without that gas -- that mask on?

WALSH: You know, Wolf, the problem I have always found of standing here, when these volleys go off, the wind is prevailing in our direction, blows it towards us.

Whenever I take the mask off, I normally have to put it back on very quickly. This is particularly nasty types of tear gas. It affects your eyes, makes it hard to breathe as well, and really so much -- more volleys of tear gas being fired now. So much of the square now constantly stinks of tear gas because it gets into everything. You can walk across areas that have been tear gassed the following morning and you will still smell it, still be affected by it, very pungent. And I have actually seen people in Ankara, the capital, one lady who's asthmatic, another suffering from an epileptic fit. It really can affect people's health incredibly strongly, Wolf.

BLITZER: Nick, stand by for a moment, Nick with an eyewitness account of what's going on at Taksim Square, Arwa Damon with an eyewitness account of what's going on at nearby Gezi Park.

Christiane Amanpour is also with us.

I know, Christiane, you have been getting some communications from Turkish government officials who are watching our coverage here on CNN and CNN International. what are they saying to you?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think they're saying exactly what we have been seeing. And that is that at the moment there are not clashes as we have seen over the last several hours, the last 15 hours or so.

There's none of those running battles that we have seen in Taksim Square at the moment. You can see that on the pictures that we have been showing for the last hour. I think they're saying that. And what Nick has been reporting about is all of these vehicles, these bulldozers, these clearers which are coming to get rid of all the debris and all the other stuff, which is kind of commensurate with what the mayor of Istanbul said tonight. Please keep out of the square while we clear it. Now, whether people stay out of the square, that's a different issue. But they also told me earlier and a chief adviser to Prime Minister Erdogan that Gezi Park is the designated protest area, and that's where people can demonstrate and protest. And that's where they say they will not allow police to go into.

Again, we will see if they hold to that. But that does seem to be what we have been seeing on the TV over the past hour, that there are protesters in Gezi Park and that these police bulldozers and clearing vehicles are trying to clear out Taksim Square. Again, we will see how this unfolds, but that's what we have been seeing for the last hour.

BLITZER: Are they explaining, Christiane, why they're still launching tear gas and water cannons in Taksim Square?


AMANPOUR: I can see the -- I can see those water cannons. I have no idea about that.

But the other thing that I think is really interesting is that we have been reporting, and certainly the prime minister's adviser told us, that there's going to be some kind of meeting tomorrow between the prime minister and members of what they call the legitimate protesters, those who they call the environmental, peaceful protesters.

But now we're hearing from a newspaper editor who I interviewed earlier has contacted me to say that the names that they have seen who will take part in this meeting tomorrow are an artist, a musician, an actor, apparently, according to this editor with, you know, links to the government. Apparently, according to this editor, members of the protesters were invited, but they have refused.

So again, this is news that is coming into us right now. We're reporting it to you as we get it. So, I don't know what's going to come out of these talks that are meant to be happening tomorrow.

BLITZER: We will see what happens tomorrow. Right now, we're happening what is happening in Istanbul.

It's after 1:00 a.m. now in Turkey. And we see that there's still -- there's still a lot, a lot of dangerous -- a dangerous environment, clearly, both at Taksim Square as well as Gezi Park.

Tom Foreman is here with us.

Tom, we have heard a lot about Taksim Square, Gezi Park. Set the scene for us. Show our viewers where this is, because these are important parts of Istanbul.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's important to understand the geography here.

If you look at all of Turkey here, Istanbul is down here at the end, largest city in the entire country, about 14 million people. And this is where Taksim Square is over here. We talk about the park a lot. And it's important to understand that we're not talking about some great distance. This is the park right here, and this is Taksim Square.

So you can see it's right in the same area. All day long, you have seen this monument over and over again. That's it right there. And when you have heard Arwa talking and Nick talking about this major road, it's this one. This is a very important road in this town. It's used by almost everyone.

And indeed, this area is incredibly important especially for the tourism business and the cultural business, for the interplay of the international community, because there's a huge international presence in this town. There's consulates around here, an awful lot of businesses that attract an awful lot of tourists.

So, from all indications, Wolf, what we have been looking at today is really a tactic of containment or an overall strategy of somehow trying to get this thing to a new level. And the containment seems to truly be focused on the idea of saying this is the border of Gezi Park. Stay inside here. And that's where negotiations would take place.

That's important because this square down here, Taksim Square, has been the center of many, many rallies over many, many years when people have protests with the government. It is an important geographic spot. And, in fact, for most of the past 30 years, it has been closed to all forms of protest because it's possible for them to get out of hand there -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Tom Foreman with a good explanation of what's going on.

We have got live pictures from Istanbul. We're going to go back in a moment to Taksim Square. Nick Paton Walsh is there. Arwa Damon is at nearby Gezi Park. You see Nick Paton Walsh there in the right part of your screen. He's wearing a gas mask because of all the volleys of gas that have been launched over the past few hours. We will go back to him and Arwa, Christiane Amanpour staying with us as well.

Much more of the breaking news coverage right here in THE SITUATION ROOM immediately after this.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Let's go right back to Arwa Damon. She's watching what's going on. Nick Paton Walsh is watching what's going on.

First of all, Arwa, to you. It looks like the situation -- you're at Gezi Park -- is still very, very intense.

DAMON: It most certainly is.

Those clashes are taking place right alongside the park that is right up against Taksim Square. We just saw another group of men running through carrying a stretcher. The demonstrators are perched up along the edge of Gezi Park. The road where the clashes are taking place is right below it.

They have actually dropped a ladder down to that road that people climb up and down. And you see people coming through. They have got goggles. This woman is saying, Tayyip, resign, referring to the prime minister, of course.

But people -- and here we have another makeshift medical team running through. That's a second stretcher that we're seeing. They do have field clinics set up here. And there was great concern we were hearing voiced earlier on that they obviously were unable to handle the number of wounded people, a lot of them really suffering from inhaling all of the tear gas and other injuries as well.

There are ambulances that are lined up on the other side of the park, but are really volunteers that have been here pretty much they say since this all began. It's still a very fluid situation, Wolf. People are also very ready with the fluid that is actually an antacid mixed with water they pour into people's eyes to try to ease the sting of it.

There's really a sense of community here, though, too, at the same time, despite the anger that we're seeing directed towards the government, towards the riot police, people here really rallying together trying to help each other out. We even have right next to us, actually, a makeshift TV station that the demonstrators have set up where they are live streaming their own guests, although you can see that people are quite exhausted given just how late it is right now.

But you have people from all walks of life here. You have young professionals, bankers. You also have young and old, everyone really saying that they're coming out, a lot of them telling us that they are not necessarily a political individual. They just find themselves as being apolitical. But they felt that they had to come out and take this stance against the government right now, Wolf.

BLITZER: Arwa, stand by for a moment. Nick Paton Walsh is right near you. He's at Taksim Square. You're at Gezi Park.

Nick, what's going on at Taksim Square? Because the pictures look like those bulldozers are clearly moving in. They're trying to clear up some oft debris. But is there tear gas still in the air?

WALSH: Well, yes, that is continuing apace, the bulldozer clear-out.

But, as you were talking to Arwa, you would have heard in the background volleys of tear gas, substantial volleys being fired down that road, it seems, to the left of Gezi Park she was also talking about. It's unclear what the police strategy towards that area actually is. They seem to be focusing their attention on clearing away the debris in front of Gezi Park and that road just being intermittently pelted with large volleys of tear gas. They're not moving their armored vehicles towards at all, police, in any substantial number in that particular direction. But we have now been looking at this for 17, 18 hours, Wolf, I have been standing here watching this standoff and these clashes. And despite that brief hour in which peaceful protests gathered and the police withdrew, there's been a consistent standoff of tear gas, water cannons, the protesters occasionally responding with their own missiles and Molotov cocktails, fireworks even.

And you have to wonder, now we're into the 17th and 18th hour of these clashes, what exactly was the police's original goal moving in here first in the morning? How long did they expect it to take to take control of this area? Why were they still engaged in a standoff with protesters when many filled into the square afterward?

That was always going to be a concern, the calls going out on social media for people to join the protests. You do have to wonder what the strategy was. Did it fail? Are they trying to deal with the protests and offered more resistance than they expected?

And even now at about half past 1:00 in the morning, heading in that particular time, we're hearing the loud chants of protesters (INAUDIBLE) which Arwa described still very much in evidence here, even though we see the sort of elaborate symphony of bulldozers and pickup trucks trying to get rid of the debris as quickly as possible -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Nick, stand by for a moment.

Soner Cagaptay is joining us. He's a Turkish expert with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

You're from Turkey originally, Soner. You see these pictures. Give us some perspective. Is this what they call the Turkish spring which we saw in North Africa and the Middle East, similar to the Arab spring? Is that what we're seeing?

SONER CAGAPTAY, DIRECTOR, TURKISH RESEARCH PROGRAM, WASHINGTON INSTITUTE FOR NEAR EAST POLICY: Not quite a spring, because there was no winter in Turkey. Turkey is a democracy. It's had free and fair elections for a long time.

I think it's more like on Occupy movement in part driven by Turkey's new rising middle class, where people are making demands for the government that it respects the basic rights, middle-class rights, such as the right to assembly, freedom of expression, urban space and the environment. I think it is definitely a country in democracy, but also that is seeing deep splits between one-half which has voted for the governing party and the other which has not.

And it's the other half that has not voted for this party that has now taken over the city's central square and has been demonstrating for the last two weeks.

BLITZER: How much of a threat is this to the government of Prime Minister Erdogan? CAGAPTAY: Not a real threat, because the half of the country that supports still stands behind him.

But the risk is social polarization, especially given that this is a violent crackdown that is turning a largely peaceful sit-in protest in the city's central square into a hot spot issue for everybody to look at. Turkey's image as a stable country is under risk. I think this is a big concern for the Turks.

Turkey's economy has done phenomenally in the last decade. It has grown in leaps and bounds. GDP per capita has tripled. Incomes have doubled for most Turks. Turks had a good 10 years. And now suddenly the world is awakening to a new reality, a country that despite its economic growth and the fact that it has become middle-class society, it is politically very deeply polarized between a government and its opponents.

BLITZER: The Turkish leader was here in Washington on May 16 for meetings with President Obama and other U.S. officials. At that time, there was no indication anything like this was in the works.

CAGAPTAY: Absolutely, none whatsoever.

And I think Turkey is a key NATO ally. It's the only ally that borders Iran, Iraq and Syria. So, a lot of people in Washington -- I have contacts with the U.S. government often. A lot of people are worried about the direction of this ally, because people are looking at this and saying this is not good for stability, because if we're going to do anything with this ally on Iraq, Iran, and Syria, we need Turkey.

I think concerns are rising in Washington. And people are hoping that the stalemate of Istanbul comes to an end, a peaceful one. Right now it looks like the prime minister has decided to up the ante with a crackdown. People are actually hoping that with tomorrow's suggested meeting between the prime minister and representatives of the protest movement, things would have calmed down.

But it looks like he's decided to take a different turn now.

BLITZER: Is there any connection to what's going on in Istanbul and a Ankara, elsewhere in Turkey right now, to what's going on in neighboring Syria? Because we know the Turkish government of Prime Minister Erdogan has been fiercely opposed to the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

CAGAPTAY: Well, this is how the situation is. Turkey is a very split country between the government and its opponents.

Most of the opponents of the government are saying that the government does not listen to them. This is a government, the AKP, Justice and Development Party, has been in power for over 11 years now. It is the longest-serving government in Turkey's history, ever since Turkey became a multi-party democracy in 1946.

A lot of people are saying that this is a government that has stayed in power for so long with so few checks and balances that it disregards public opinion, including on Syria. Turks support the uprising in Syria, but they don't want their government to be so up front confronting the Assad regime, because Turkey feels that it has been left alone. Recently, There was a major terror attack in Turkey, the biggest attack on Turkish soil in modern history that killed 51 people.

People are saying this is because of Turkey's very forward Syria policy and they should pull back. The government is still quite forward in its rhetoric and its policy. And I think Syria is one issue that is behind the protests. I don't think the protests are just about the future of a downtown park. I think the park and the environmental concerns mask a number of other issues.

It is the fact that although this is a very popular government that is loved by its supporters, it is also a government that is disliked by those who don't support it. And because of the country's political split, I think the opposition is now going to latch onto other issues. Whether or not the protests in the Taksim Square continue or not.

And they might fizzle away tomorrow. We might wake up to a new Turkey where the square is al nice and clean, everybody's gone home, the police has cleaned it up. But the protesters will come back with new demands because this looks like a Turkey in which the new rising middle class has found a voice and they're using social media to organize and sustain a rather credible protest movement.

BLITZER: Is there -- is it too simplistic to say this is -- the demonstrators are against the Islamist tendencies of the government? They want to be able to drink alcohol, for example. They don't want to have to dress more conservatively. And they don't like some of the certain Islamist tendencies of Prime Minister Erdogan's government?

CAGAPTAY: I don't think this is the usual Islamist-secularist divide in Turkey. I don't think we're seeing secularist Turkey uprising.

I think what we are seeing though are secular Turks who are uprising against a government that they see as conservative and straitjacket conservative. They don't like the fact that the government is trying to manage and engineer social policies, for instance, passing legislation that severely limits access to alcohol. That's a culture war in a predominantly Muslim country, where some people think that consumption of alcohol is a sin.

People don't want the government to legislate on that issue, nor on the issue of women's rights and media freedoms. So, I think this is a country in which the secular liberal middle class, which has so far been quiet, but that forms a plurality, if not a majority, of the society, has risen up.

And they have found in the last two weeks that they can effectively organize, stay on the streets, and that they can have their voices heard. I think that's why they will be around for us to recognize.

BLITZER: Soner Cagaptay, stay with us for a moment. We are going to continue to pick your brain. We also just made a connection with an eyewitness right in the middle of the tear gas volleys that were going on just a little while ago. We will take a quick break, resume our coverage, what's going on in Turkey, right after this.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: It's been hours now of a tense standoff in Istanbul, Turkey, both at Taksim Square as well as Gezi Park, as police have moved in, in huge numbers with tear gas, water cannon, bulldozers. They're trying to disperse the protesters who are deeply, deeply angered by some of the actions of the Turkish government of Prime Minister Erdogan.

And we have seen the violence escalate over the past few hours. It's now approaching 1:30 a.m. in Istanbul.

Joining us on the phone is Jan Peter Van Der Ree, the general manager of Grand Hyatt Hotel in Istanbul.

Mr. Van Der Ree, thanks very much for joining us.

How close is your hotel to Taksim Square or Gezi Park?

JAN PETER VAN DER REE, HOTEL GENERAL MANAGER: The hotel is directly next to Gezi Park, about a hundred meters away. And the Taksim Square is directly behind it.


BLITZER: All right, so you're right in the middle of it.

Is the tear gas getting into your hotel? Are the guests in your hotel suffering as a result of the tear gas, for example?

VAN DER REE: No. Today, we're not because the wind direction -- the wind blows such that the gas goes in the other direction.

BLITZER: So, what kind of damage, what kind of -- describe what you have seen in the course of today, because you're there. You're on the scene and you have got the Grand Hyatt Hotel you have got to deal with.

VAN DER REE: Well, we saw in the morning that there was unrest on the square. And we saw that police was having contact with the demonstrators.

The demonstrators have been there for a couple of days now. And it's been calm actually for the last days. But, today, there was much more unrest on the square. And, yes, we saw the movements outside the hotel.

BLITZER: And what is it like right now from your vantage point? I don't know if you have been outside lately. Does it look like it's easing up a bit, or is it still tense?

VAN DER REE: It still -- it seems to be very still tense outside. but I think there are -- seem to be that there are less people on the street.

BLITZER: How dangerous would you say the situation, Mr. Van Der Ree, is?

VAN DER REE: Well, the situation directly around the hotel is relatively calm. It's 100, 150 meters away from the hotel where things are happening.

And we have been able to control the situation inside the hotel and directly in front quite well so far. The situation could always change. But we have been focusing on making sure that the guests that are staying with us, that they are secure. And that's successful so far.

BLITZER: Jan Peter Van Der Ree, good luck to you. Good luck to the guests who are there at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Istanbul. We will stay in touch with you.

This has been a remarkable day in Istanbul. We want to share with you right now what we have seen over the past few hours. Watch this.


ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Those are being -- those are being shot directly into. There were thousands, tens of thousands of demonstrators who were peaceful. Again, we were standing right here when something like an altercation seemed to have broken out.

That gas is coming towards us right now. But it 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.

Those demonstrators -- sorry. No idea what that was.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Nick Paton Walsh is in our Istanbul bureau with more. What can you see from your vantage point right now, Nick?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, what we have been seeing in the last few minutes are what looked like water cannons firing in the direction of Gezi Park. We don't know what sparked this police move. Did say there was some sort of altercation. We've been seeing that, though, all day. So no specific reason why that itself would be cause to trigger such an enormous response by police.

DAMON: I'm in the park right now putting a gas mask on once again. Because there's more tear gas being fired. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) right there is helping that girl out with the bird. People here are really rallying together. But it's been a pretty intense gassing of these tent cities that have been here ever since these demonstrations.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Trying, but tear gas is really horrible. WALSH: We are seeing these protesters now trying to move up back towards the square. And here you go. Both bangs, not tear gas. But instead fireworks.

DAMON: Did you think that the government would actually attack the park, tear gas the park the way they did?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Today in the morning they were right here, 3,000 (ph) cops. And then they go to (UNINTELLIGIBLE), and then they attacked.

WALSH: We're seeing people run away now again. Scattering. It's not quite clear why we haven't heard the familiar crack of tear gas again. But they're moving -- there we are.

DAMON: Right now in the very front of the park. You can see people trying to help us out. Because of the tear gas -- the entire front part of the park right now has been cleared out because of the intensity of what was just fired in.

WALSH: I think we're being saved by the wind here to a certain degree. The police -- no. I'm sorry. I'm going to have to move back in. It's too intense where I'm standing.

Lots of tear gas in the air. A substantial police presence in the very center of the square itself. And of course, that question remains what exactly is the end game here?


BLITZER: Some of what we saw in the past few hours. These are live pictures you're seeing right now. It's escalating big time. Nick Paton Walsh is on the ground for us. He's in Taksim Square.

What's going on now, Nick?

WALSH: What we've seen down on the ground here was a volley of fireworks being fired by protesters from that road on the left of Gezi Park. Barricades, taking opposition behind. And then a spectacular volley shot in the direction of the police, mostly ineffectual. Didn't seem to actually reach the police.

And now tear gas. Of course, the standard police response. That's blowing towards our live position here as we speak.

But now we're heading into about 2 a.m. in the morning local time here, and this standoff continues. The police haven't managed to make any headway down that side road towards protesters. Their focus is that central park where the bulldozers are picking up a lot of debris and trying to cart it away.

But the real question is what do they intend to do about that hard- core protest down the left-hand side? There is tear gas blowing in here. I should point out, it's difficult stuff to contend with. It gets into your respiratory system, as well as your eyes, as well. But there's a real thinning out of protestors here. What I think the net effect of today for police lines certainly has been to deprive protesters of much of the access to the area below the bureau where I've standing. It's to find a new front line between the police and protesters to the left of Gezi Park, down that key concrete road. I think Tom Foreman was explaining earlier on. And we still have, of course, people inside Gezi Park, as well.

The real issue is as the night goes on, what do they intend to do about gaining further ground, about holding further ground? You probably will see numbers of protesters ebb as things go by. People have jobs, homes to go to in many ways. The question is how do police seem to capitalize on what's been happening now?

Eighteen hours, Wolf, we've watched these clashes. We've yet to really see a concrete, decisive plan by police to retain control.

BLITZER: Nick, if the tear gas continues, put on your gas mask. And we'll check back with you. Stand by.

Nick Paton Walsh is over at Taksim Square. Arwa Damon is speaking with some of the protesters at nearby Gezi Park. We'll take a quick break. We'll go back to Arwa right after this.


BLITZER: Approaching 2 a.m. in Istanbul, Turkey, right now. You're looking at live pictures. The demonstrations continue. So does the tear gas on some of those demonstrators. Arwa Damon is over at Gezi Park for us.

Arwa, you're speaking to some eyewitnesses, some protesters. I know you have someone you want to speak to. Go ahead.

DAMON: That's right, Wolf. I'm joined by Tona (ph). She's actually an economist. And she's been here -- she was just telling me -- from the first day that the first tree was being torn down.

Let me ask this. The situation has changed so much since then. How did you guys who were here at the beginning adapt and learn how to deal with all of this?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, you learn. I mean, I never stand in front of the police before. I'm not an activist. Not since, like, I was 14. I just stopped some people from tearing down trees, again, when I was 14. Since then I've never been an activist.

But this time it seems like the NGOs, the non-government organizations, they asked to stop this. But it seems without any permission, they started like at 1 a.m. on the 27th night tearing down the trees. And then people starting coming in.

And I came here on the 28th morning, and in front of us there was the police. I thought within three days the government officials, I mean, the municipality and so on, they could come and talk to the people and just settle this down. But it seems that these -- let's say these government official situations, they do not work.

DAMON: And obviously, the situation right now has escalated to such a degree where it's about a lot more than that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. After the third day, the Turkish media was blacked out for six days. And we started calling CNN, BBC, and United Nations and so on. Well, the people who spoke English very well, we started writing to them. And we wrote some letters to E.U.

And after that, after the sixth day, everybody understood. I mean, the international press, and they understood that there was something going on here.

DAMON: So you heard the prime minister speak earlier today?


DAMON: What is the solution to all of this right now? How does this end? How does...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The solution is to speak to the people, basically. To speak to the people and say this part, the long siege of people of Istanbul, and it's settled.

And of course after the sixth day it became very, very political. Because there were so different parties. There were (UNINTELLIGIBLE) so much. And it seemed that the government never listened to them and tried to solve their problems. Then every -- every organization joined the situation, basically. But it started as a very, very innocent nature-protecting activity, basically.

DAMON: How does it make you feel to see this happening in Turkey? I mean, this I'm assuming, is unprecedented in your lifetime.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, it feels very unsecure at the moment. I mean, I trust my friends at the moment and nothing else. Because the government officials, they do not work. They cannot find a solution. It seems the international organizations, they cannot find any immediate solution at the moment, and I am very, very sorry for this.

DAMON: What do you think is going to happen next? Where does the country go from here?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, I think somehow -- somehow it will settle down. But we have to find -- I mean, all of us, all of us -- all the citizens, not only the government offices, all the citizens have to sit down and join the NGOs and tell the government what they would like to have in this country. It's not a matter of suppressing people. They have to listen, listen, listen.

DAMON: Thank you so much for joining us.

You know, Wolf, that's been, of course, what we've been hearing a lot here. And despite the fact that the government has been describing people as being extremists or a minority, and a lot of people here are self-described professionals. They work during the day. They come out here at night. And their position towards the government as each day goes by, the more violent it becomes. It becomes even more hardened. They;re more determined to see this until the very end.

BLITZER: It started off relatively modestly. But it's not so modest anymore.

Arwa, stand by. Nick Paton Walsh is standing by, as well. We'll take another quick break. We'll watch what's happening in Istanbul, Turkey, a NATO ally, right after this.


BLITZER: In the past few minutes we've seen significant numbers of Turkish riot police moving in with tear gas, water canon against protesters.

Nick Paton Walsh, tell our viewers what we're seeing right now. Because clearly over the past two or three minutes, this situation has escalated.

WALSH: Absolutely. Dramatic development here, Wolf. We have been wondering what the police would do about this group of protesters to the left of Gezi Park on a road there behind barricades. The answer very clear.

In the last two minutes they fired a substantial volley of tear gas towards them and have sent in two armored vehicles. We're seeing more tear gas being fired. Water cannons also at their disposal now. And this seems to be the move by police down the left of Gezi Park to push those protesters back.

We don't know what their final strategy is, but here's a water canon now being used.

We're also seeing protesters trying to shine a green laser light, presumably, into the eyes of police to temporarily blind them. But we're seeing now large numbers of police moving down that street in that direction using these armored vehicles as cover. Thick amounts of tear gas, actually obscuring a lot of what they're doing at this point, Wolf.

But this does appear to be the next phase of the police operation: to try and move down that side street, Wolf.

BLITZER: How close are you, Nick, to what's going on down there? Because I see you're wearing a gas mask, as well.

WALSH: About a couple of hundred meters as a profile, looking straight down onto those pictures you're seeing. The gas masks we're wearing up here simply because of tear gas. The prevailing wind blows it towards us a lot of the time. Pretty hard to talk to you without them.

We're now seeing one of those armored vehicles advancing towards the barricades. Both of them, in fact. A bulldozer coming in behind those two armored vehicles. I'm suspecting that's to assist in clearing the barricade.

The mayor of Istanbul did say they would unremittingly continue until this square was cleared. That's clearly what's happening behind me right now.

We've had another bulldozer appearing just below where I'm standing to clear further debris out of the way. But as that bulldozer moves in, yet more tear gas. I mean, just a constant barrage we're seeing right now. A series of these bulldozers, but clearly the focus for police right now is to get rid of this debris.

They've got about six hours, five hours until dawn. Maybe they want people to wake up in Istanbul and see a change in where the protests are behind me here. But the number of protesters have been, certainly as I can see. We don't know how many are down that side road to which the police have been focusing their energy.

But, dramatic scenes, Wolf, we've seen in the last five minutes as they began to pile down that particular road, Wolf.

BLITZER: You know, it's amazing. The police have the tear gas, the water cannon, the bulldozers. They've got gas masks. It's hard for me to understand how these protesters can even deal with this, Nick.

WALSH: Well, many of these protesters have (UNINTELLIGIBLE) been dealing with tear gas and have experience from previous principle protests and police tactics, as well.

A lot of people have gas masks, and a lot of makeshift ways of dealing with different types of tear gas: milk squirted into the eyes, lemons, water into the eyes, too. That won't help you with tear gas that thick. You do need a gas mask. Many of them have them there, as well.

And we just don't actually know how many of them remain behind those barricades. And I can see -- I can see, a lot of tear gas. And the excavators, bulldozers moving in to push back a lot of the debris that's started to accrue there.

But it's clear the police are making their move against those barricades. That's been the last hold-out of protesters, the left of Gezi Park. I think at this point we're waiting to see what -- what position and condition they're leaving the park itself, Wolf.

BLITZER: Nick, we've just received a strong statement from the White House about what's going on in Turkey ,including a warning for the Turkish government. We'll read that statement to you. We'll get some analysis. Stay with us. The breaking news continues right after this.


BLITZER: Just received a statement from the Obama administration, the White House reacting to what we've been covering in Turkey. Here's the -- here's the statement: "We continue to follow events in Turkey with concern, and our interest remains supporting freedom of expression and assembly, including the right to peaceful protests. We are concerned by any attempts to punish individuals for exercising their right to free speech, as well as attempts by any party to provoke violence. We believe today's events reinforce the need to resolve this situation through dialogue. As we have said, we believe that Turkey's long-term stability, security and prosperity, is best guaranteed by upholding the fundamental freedoms of expression, assembly, association and a free and independent media. Turkey is a close friend and ally of the United States, and we expect the Turkish authorities to uphold these fundamental freedoms."

Sonar Toptai (ph) is with us, the Turkish analyst. A strong statement from the White House, especially given the fact this is a NATO ally of the United States. The words "We expect the Turkish authorities to uphold these fundamental freedoms."

SONAR TOPTAI (ph), TURKISH ANALYST: In living memory, this is the harshest the U.S. government has been of a NATO ally, I would say, because the statement basically calls on the government in Turkey to respect basic freedoms, expression and assembly.

I think it goes to the core of the problem. The core of the problem is that we're seeing in Turkey, liberal, secular, middle-class Turks rise up to a conservative, democratically-elected but increasingly authoritarian government, telling the government "Listen to us. Hear our voice. Take our views into account."

The government's response to this has been a crackdown that violates assembly, association, and media. But I think the statement stands behind what's going on in Turkey. So even as these demonstrations disappear, this time when they come back, I think it will be a reconfigured Turkey in which the middle, secular class would have found a new way of democratic participation and that street protests have them realize that they can do this. Unfortunately, tonight they might lose.

BLITZER: And we're seeing -- we still continue to see tear gas. We see bulldozers, water cannons, these demonstrations continuing, and the police, the riot police in Turkey responding forcefully, as well, as they're approaching 2 a.m. in Istanbul.

That's it for me. That's the extent of our coverage, but stay with CNN throughout the night for more of the breaking news.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right after this.