U.N. human rights official calls for change in Turkish police tactics

June 18, 2013 at 3:42 PM
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ISTANBUL, Turkey, June 18 (UPI) -- A U.N. human rights official said Tuesday the situation in Turkey, where development in a park was a flashpoint for wider unrest, remains "highly combustible."

Navi Pillay, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, called on the government to curb police abuses and heavy-handed tactics.

"The atmosphere is still clearly highly combustible," she said. "It is important that the authorities recognize that the initial extremely heavy-handed response to the protests, which resulted in many injuries, is still a major part of the problem."

As Pillay issued her statement, the government continued to search for organizers of the 22-day Taksim Square protests, conducting raids in Ankara and Istanbul. Nearly 200 people were detained in Istanbul where authorities charged 22 of them with organizing violent protests, Turkey's Hurriyet Daily News reported.

In addition to individuals, police raided Atilim Newspaper and Etkin News Agency in Istanbul.

Human Rights Watch said it has documented arbitrary detentions last weekend.

"The police assault on a peaceful crowd in Gezi Park and teargas use in confined spaces showed a dangerous disregard for the well-being -- and indeed the lives -- of protesters and bystanders," said Emma Sinclair-Webb, a senior Turkey researcher. "The repeated police violence against people who are dissatisfied with government policies has deeply polarized Turkey. The government urgently needs to change police tactics and issue a clear signal for restraint."

Turkey's government set off nationwide protests following a crackdown on environmentalists and other activists opposed to plans to cut down trees and redevelop a park adjacent to Istanbul's Taksim Square, Today's Zaman reported.

A Turkish man who stood silently in the square for 6 hours Monday night was identified as performance artist Erdem Gunduz. He was joined by hundreds of people eventually dispersed by police for blocking traffic.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has held power for 10 years, mobilized supporters for two huge weekend rallies.

He has criticized media coverage of the protests and lashed out at unspecified foreigners who he said want to hurt Turkey.

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