ISTANBUL — Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Istanbul on Thursday in May Day rallies, confronting riot police officers to protest, lashing out against a government mired in a corruption scandal and accused of imposing a creeping authoritarianism in Turkey.
Police fired tear gas, used water cannons and shut down main streets to disperse hundreds of protesters seeking to challenge a government ban on May Day celebrations in Taksim Square, also the scene of anti-government protests last summer against the administration of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
More than 140 people were detained and 90 people, including 19 police officers, were injured in clashes that continued in the main and back streets of central Istanbul until early afternoon, the Istanbul Governor’s Office said in a statement.
May Day, or International Workers’ Day, historically has been a lightning rod for violence in Turkey as people have used the occasion to convey their grievances. May 1 was declared a national holiday in 2009.
May Day demonstrations also took place in parts of Asia, including Hong Kong and Seoul, where anger following a recent ferry sinking in South Korea was expected to give the protests particular resonance. Thousands of Russian workers gathered in Red Square in Moscow in a show of the patriotism that has surged following events in Ukraine.
In Turkey, anger against Erdogan has grown in recent months as a corruption scandal has plunged his government into crisis and challenged the position of the prime minister, who has held power for more than a decade. In recent weeks, Erdogan has infuriated the country’s secular, liberal class by seeking to ban Twitter and clamping down on social media. Critics have also accused him of abusing his power by purging police officials and judges in an apparent attempt to undermine a corruption investigation that has ensnared him and key allies.
The protests Thursday were some of the largest since mass demonstrations across Turkey last June, when tens of thousands of people demonstrated against Erdogan’s government.
To quell the latest protests, nearly 40,000 police were mobilized in Istanbul, according to law enforcement officials, and the government shut down bus and ferry lines and blocked roads leading to Taksim Square. But several unions and civic groups defied the restrictions, claiming the ban was illegal.
Hurriyet, a leading newspaper, reported that a man intent on joining the May Day protests had tried to hijack an airplane going from Nicosia, Cyprus, to Ankara, Turkey, on Thursday, locking himself in the plane’s bathroom and threatening to detonate a bomb if the flight wasn’t diverted to Istanbul. The newspaper said the flight landed in Ankara, where the suspected hijacker, a 50-year-old man, was arrested by the police.