Streets smell like tear gas after protests: UBC student in Turkey
CTV British Columbia
Published Sunday, June 16, 2013 7:41PM PDT
Last Updated Monday, June 17, 2013 9:35AM PDT
A University of British Columbia student is one of thousands of people who have been swept up in a political turf war in Turkey.
Kolina Kretzschmar and a friend found themselves in the middle of a melee Saturday when riot police forced protestors from Istanbul’s Taksim Square under direct orders from Turkey’s Prime Minister.
“We went near Taksim square last night just to check it out because it was supposed to have calmed down, and it was chaos,” she said. “Nobody was really pushing or fighting, but the police were throwing tear gas at us.”
The pair took off, but as clashes between police and protestors spread through the city, Kretzchmar saw that the conflict had stretched across the city to their hostel.
“You can see the chaos and the water cannons and the rubber bullets and you smell tear gas pretty much any street you walk on now,” she said.
The UBC student is just one of many tourists caught up in the nationwide protests, which erupted May 31 after a violent police crackdown against peaceful activists.
They were staging an initial sit-in to protest government plans to rip down Gezi Park's trees and erect a replica Ottoman-era barracks.
The protests quickly spiraled into a widespread denunciation of what many say is Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's increasingly authoritarian way of governing -- charges he vehemently denies.
In a nearly two-hour speech Sunday, Erdogan took aim at foreign media coverage -- citing three English-language news outlets by name -- and European Union criticism of his government's handling of protests that have dented his international image, despite Turkey's recent economic success.
“It’s kind of frightening but at the same time, I’ve been out all day and going to the mosques and everything it’s still beautiful Istanbul,” said Kretzschmar, who said despite the conflict, she still feels safe in the city.
“It kind of gets your heart racing, but you know everyone is there to help you. If you’re in trouble the Turkish people are so kind.”
Turkish labour unions have called for a one-day strike that would include doctors, lawyers, engineers and civil servants in support of the protesters.
Meanwhile, Canadian foreign affairs isn’t issuing an advisory for people heading to Turkey, though it has warned travelers to “exercise a high degree of caution due to crime, the threat of terrorist attacks, and ongoing demonstrations throughout the country.”
With files from the Associated Press and CTV British Columbia’s Penny Daflos