Turkish police attack women's march with tear gas, rubber bullets

Turkish police on Friday night attacked a march held by thousands of people to mark International Women's Day in central Istanbul, using tear gas, pepper spray, and rubber bullets to disperse crowds in the latest sign of President Tayyip Erdogan administration's growing intolerance to any dissent or expression of civil rights.
author_image Rawa Barwari

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) - Turkish police on Friday night attacked a march held by thousands of people to mark International Women's Day in central Istanbul, using tear gas, pepper spray, and rubber bullets to disperse crowds in the latest sign of President Tayyip Erdogan administration's growing intolerance to any form of dissent or expression of civil rights.

Armed riot police put much of the city's landmark Istiklal Avenue and its connecting streets on lockdown hours ahead of the march to block various groups from entering, a majority of them led by feminist organizations demanding equal rights and an end to the rising political suppression in the county.

When thousands holding placards and shouting "We refuse obedience," poured onto Taksim Square and demanded to enter Istiklal, hundreds of police formed in lines to obstruct them and began pushing back.

Turkish armed riot police prevent thousands from walking to mark the Women's Day in Istanbul, March 8, 2019. (Photo: Reuters)
Turkish armed riot police prevent thousands from walking to mark the Women's Day in Istanbul, March 8, 2019. (Photo: Reuters)

The confrontation led to violent scenes, with many marchers choking on tear gas and some women finding themselves being dragged on the ground or stomped on.

One of the attendees, who asked not to be named out of concern for her personal safety, told Kurdistan 24 over the phone that she was near the French Consulate, at Istiklal's entrance, when the police launched the assault.

"They attacked us with tear gas for no reason," she said.

It was not immediately clear if any of the marchers, or others in the area, were seriously injured.

People take cover as police try to disperse a march marking International Women's Day, March 8, 2019, Istanbul, Turkey. (Photo: Reuters)
People take cover as police try to disperse a march marking International Women's Day, March 8, 2019, Istanbul, Turkey. (Photo: Reuters)

Privately-owned Demiroren news agency reported that police special forces snipers were deployed to the rooftops of multiple nearby buildings, with underground metro stations at Taksim and Istiklal ordered closed for hours to prevent access to the women's march.

The pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), which prides itself on a feminist agenda and having the most female lawmakers, condemned the violence by the government forces against the women's march.

"Everywhere in the world, women celebrated March 8 freely. But there was only one place where a police assault took place. Guess where? We are baffled by the government's logic that it thinks it can frighten women this way," the HDP said in a statement.

The opposition party noted that, according to World Bank findings, Turkey ranked 85th among UN member states in providing equal opportunities for females, a major setback in recent years for women in a country where many fear that constitutional secularism is facing a coordinated program of government-sponsored erosion. 

Editing by John J. Catherine