Turkey bans May Day protests in Istanbul's Taksim square

Turkey bans May Day protests in Istanbul's Taksim square
Turkish unions are prohibited from using Istanbul's emblematic Taksim Square to for any May Day protests, which have often witnessed arrests in the country.
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Turkey's interior minister said Taksim Square and its surrounding vicinity is 'not convenient for any rally' [Getty/file photo]

Turkish police on Tuesday sealed off Istanbul's central Taksim Square to prevent any May Day protests as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned unions to stay away from any provocative steps.

High metal barriers were erected around the square, AFP journalists reported.

The stepped-up security measures came a day after Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya said authorities had designated 40 areas for May Day celebrations with the exception of the emblematic Taksim Square.

Yerlikaya said some unions had demanded to use the square, the epicentre of 2013 protests against the government of then prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, now president, but that it would not be allowed.

"Taksim Square and its surrounding vicinity is not convenient for any rally," he said.

Istanbul's governor's office has announced some roads will be closed to traffic while restrictions will be imposed on public transport as part of security measures.

Turkey's main opposition CHP party, which won a victory in the March 31 local elections while retaining control of several main cities including Istanbul, however pressed the government to open the square for labour rallies.

CHP leader Ozgur Ozel on Monday called on the interior minister to reconsider the ban on Taksim, which has been used in the past.

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"Sealing off Taksim amounts to not recognising the constitution," he said.

In an address on Tuesday, Erdogan said insisting on staging a rally at unauthorised areas was "not well-intentioned".

He said the opposition and some "marginal groups" sought to overshadow May Day spirit with their calls to rally at Taksim Square.

"I invite our unions and political parties to stay away from steps that would harm the May Day atmosphere," he said.

'Symbolic significance'

Taksim Square was a rallying ground for May Day celebrations until 1977, when at least 34 people were killed during demonstrations.

Authorities later opened up the square for celebrations in 2010, but it was shut down again after it played host to anti-government protests in 2013 targeting Erdogan.

In 2023, Turkey's top constitutional court ruled that Taksim Square's closure to protests constituted a violation of rights.

The Amnesty International rights group also said the ban "is based on entirely spurious security and public order grounds" and called for it to be lifted.

Calling the square "a place of huge symbolic significance", Amnesty added that: "For more than a decade, the Turkish authorities have unlawfully restricted people's right to assembly and criminalised peaceful protests that take place in the square."

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More than 42,000 police will be on duty in the city for May 1.