NEW: Video shows men using machete, stick
Government won't allow "illegal" gatherings, interior minister says
Witnesses reported use of water cannons and tear gas
Court overruled parts of Taksim development project, including plans to rebuild barracks
Police barricaded Istanbul’s main Taksim Square and used water cannons to disperse crowds on Saturday to prevent demonstrators from entering Gezi Park, the site of protests for more than a month.
Interior Minister Muammer Guler said the government won’t permit “illegal” demonstrations in the park.
“We will not and cannot permit demonstration or marches in those places,” the minister said. “Without it being a demonstration or a protest march, they can use Gezi Park as they please. We will not allow tents.
“Right now in Istanbul there is a search and a push for ways to have illegal gatherings. Our police is not permitting this,” Guler said.
Witnesses who spoke to CNN by phone reported use of water cannons and tear gas on Istiklal Street, one of the main arteries leading to Taksim Square.
The 6th Administrative Court in Istanbul overruled some parts of the Taksim development project, including plans to rebuild old barracks in Gezi Park.
Taksim Solidarity, an umbrella platform of activists and civil society groups, put out a call after ruling for people to gather in Gezi Park, which has not been open to the public since June 16.
“We are going to our park to deliver the court decision by hand, which cancels the project aimed to disidentify, depopulate and concretize Gezi Park, to the ones who shut the park down to the people,” said Taksim Solidarity in a written statement. “We are going to our park to open its doors to its real owners, so to everyone again.”
“They are in the smaller streets trying to prevent people from even reaching Istiklal,” said Irem Koker, an eyewitness.
CNN witnessed several men being detained by police. One demonstrators said “this is a police state,” as water cannons were being used to disperse the crowd.
Some residents exploded in anger at the police barricades.
“This is the fourth entrance [to Taksim] that I’ve been stopped at. I have a 12-year-old child waiting for me,” said a woman to a police officer blocking her way across what is normally one of the city’s busiest transit hubs. She was dressed in the trenchcoat and headscarf popular among conservative Turkish Muslim women.
“Until now I used to pray for you,” she told the police officer. “Now that has all changed.”
As clashes continued in streets and back alleys of Istanbul’s historic Beyoglu district, Istanbul’s governor, Huseyin Avni Mutlu, responded to an amateur video that went viral on Turkish social media Saturday night.
The video showed men armed with a large round sword and a stick attacking pedestrians in Istanbul’s Talimhane district, which is adjacent to Taksim Square.
One of the men with a machete is seen in the video beating a woman once with the blade and then kicking her in the small of the back.
The amateur video also showed several police officers physically trying to separate the two men from the people they were attacking.
An eyewitness told CNN he and several other anti-government protesters took shelter in a building in Talimhane when they saw the men shown in the video attacking demonstrators.
“There were two guys in the middle of the street. We saw them from afar. They have these things that looked like swords, not knives but like rounded swords. They were running, swinging swords and kicking people,” the eyewitness said, on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal.
“I think they were out there to scare people. To give the message ‘we’re out here.’ It wasn’t like they were hiding the swords.”
Mutlu said the suspected attackers had been detained by police.
“The two people with swords and sticks that were part of the events that took place after the illegal protest in Taksim have been detained and are being processed,” Mutlu wrote on his official Twitter account.
“Our security officer was wounded while trying to apprehend the attacker armed with a sword who was seen in videos,” Mutlu said.
The Istanbul governor said that Gezi Park will open to the public Sunday, but that Taksim Solidarity’s call for a demonstration is not legal and will not be permitted.
“It is not legal to gather in Taksim. I cannot let you gather where the law says you cannot,” Mutlu told reporters on Saturday. “We are not going to allow this illegal gathering. The police will make the necessary warnings,” he said.
After more than an hour of skirmishes between police and demonstrators, calm returned to Istiklal Street. The heavy police presence continued to block pedestrians from entering Taksim Square.