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Turkey protests: 'Woman in red' Ceyda Sungur becomes reluctant symbol of Turkish resistance

Endlessly shared on social media the image of the woman in red has become the leitmotif for female protesters
  • @bobjwilliams

The incongruity of the woman at the centre of the image is striking; dressed in a red cotton summer dress, shopping bag over one shoulder, she appears almost to have wandered into the scene by accident.

The photograph of an academic Ceyda Sungur wearing a red dress being pepper sprayed by police in Turkey has since gone viral and has become a symbol of the “Occupy Gezi” protests.

Endlessly shared on social media and replicated as a cartoon on posters and stickers, the image of the woman in red has become the leitmotif for female protesters during days of violent anti-government demonstrations in Istanbul.

The image of Sungur,  an academic at Istanbul's Technical University, being pepper sprayed was snapped as she walking from her office to Gezi Park and encountered a line of riot police.

"That photo encapsulates the essence of this protest," says maths student Esra at Besiktas, near the Bosphorus strait and one of the centres of this week's protests. "The violence of the police against peaceful protesters, people just trying to protect themselves and what they value."

In one graphic copy of the photograph plastered on walls the woman appears much bigger than the policeman. "The more you spray the bigger we get", reads the slogan next to it.

Both the European Union and the United States have condemned what is perceived as the heavy-handed action of Turkish police against protesters.

Ms Sungur has declined interviews since the image emerged telling Turkish media that she feels uncomfortable being the face of the protests.

"A lot of people no different from me were out protecting the park, defending their rights, defending democracy," she said last week. "They also got gassed."

Yesterday it was reported that Turkish police have detained 25 people for "spreading untrue information" on social media and provoking protests, the state-run news agency said.

The people were detained in the city of Izmir for allegedly "inciting the people to enmity and hate", the Anadolu Agency said, adding that police are still looking for 13 others.

Thousands of protesters have joined anti-government riots expressing discontent with prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's 10-year rule.

Turkey's main broadcast media have been criticised for shunning the coverage of police brutality at the protest onset on Friday, and many people turned to social media to keep up to date with the developments.

Mr Erdogan, who has dismissed the protests as demonstrations organised by an extremist fringe, has referred to the social media as "the worst menace to society".

Video: Images emerge of woman sprayed with tear gas in Turkey