Turkey protests: Tens of thousands take to the streets to mourn 15-year-old tear-gas victim

Berkin Elvan died on Tuesday after 269 days in a coma

Istanbul

Tens of thousands have taken to the streets across Turkey to mark the funeral of a 15-year-old boy who was killed by a tear-gas canister during last summer’s anti-government demonstrations.

Berkin Elvan died on Tuesday after 269 days in a coma caused by a tear-gas canister fired by police during anti-government protests last year. His death has sparked renewed anger at the government at a time when the Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is already facing pressure over allegations of corruption.

For the protesters, the Elvan case has become yet a further symbol of police and government impunity. When he finally succumbed to his injuries, Elvan became the eighth person to have been killed by violence related to the Gezi Park protests – which began as a demonstration against planned destruction of a park in Istanbul but grew into a wider anti-government movement. One of those killed was a police officer. Protesters are angry that no action has been taken against the officers responsible for the deaths.

Mr Erdogan is currently fighting allegations of corruption and has taken a series of controversial steps – including removing police and prosecutors from key positions – which critics say are aimed at stalling investigations into him and his allies.

 

The corruption allegations surfaced in December with the news that several high-profile businessmen and the family members of three members of parliament had been arrested in a wide-reaching police investigation.

In the following months more details about Mr Erdogan’s personal connections with the instances of bribery were released on social media. One particular audio file which was shared on YouTube was alleged to be between the Prime Minister and his son, telling him to get rid of more than $30m that they allegedly possessed.

The government has refused to give credence to the allegations, insisting that they are orchestrated by foreign powers that intend to benefit from Turkey’s downfall.

Elvan’s death has received national attention and fuelled anger from last year’s protests and the corruption allegations. His mother, Gulsum Elvan, made headlines on the day of her son’s death, when she publicly admonished the Prime Minister. “It is not God who has taken my son away. It is Tayyip Erdogan”, she said.

There were demonstrations of solidarity in cities throughout the country.

In Istanbul, clashes took place in at least five districts as mourners chanted “we are all Berkin. You cannot eliminate us by killing” at the police. At midday, tens of thousands gathered in Okmeydani, a lower-middle class district of the city to express their grief.

Many of the television news programmes broadcast the event live, showing streets full of red flags and pictures of Berkin’s face. One mourner said of the Prime Minister: “He is not just a thief anymore, he is a murderer.”

The state-run Anadolu Agency said 102 people were arrested overnight in the Aegean port city of Izmir.

Tear gas and water cannons were used to disperse demonstrations and in the capital of Ankara, Hurriyet news agency reported that police were using FN-303 riot guns against students. The ammunition used by this weapon is classified as “lethal” in several European countries

The demonstrations followed clashes between protesters and riot police in several cities overnight.

Prominent opposition politicians attended the funeral but representatives from Mr Erdogan’s ruling AK Party were neither present nor welcome. The opposition have criticised the ruling AK Party for not apologising for Elvan’s death, and Mr Erdogan for praising the work of the police forces during the protests.

Doctors concluded that the tear-gas canister that was most likely responsible for Elvan’s coma and eventual death had been fired from close range. The European Court has ruled that the firing of gas canisters at civilians is a violation of international legal standards.

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