Police arrested at least 15 people in Istanbul on Friday, including union leaders who attempted to organize a May Day march in defiance of a coronavirus removal and a flashpoint ban. Taksim square.
The Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions of Turkey, or DISK, tweeted that its leader Arzu Cerkezoglu and several other union leaders were arrested near Taksim Square, where they wanted to lay wreaths of carnations.
The images show police and demonstrators wearing masks and face guards in close and tense contact.
The governor’s office in Istanbul said the protesters were later released. The statement added that various unions had left wreaths in Taksim Square, as permitted by the governor’s office, but that DISK had insisted on collective walking in the square, which was contrary to the rules of foreclosure and social distancing.
Taksim Square has symbolic value for the Turkish trade union movement. In 1977, 34 people were killed there during a May Day event when gunshots were fired at the crowd from a nearby building.
Opposition lawmakers were then allowed to bring the damaged DISK crown to the square.
Turkey has imposed partial closures in 31 provinces every weekend and on holidays. Exemptions apply, including for many workers who continue to work in the midst of the pandemic. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the country must continue production to ensure that the “economic wheels keep turning.”
The ban on May 1 demonstrations in Taksim has been in effect for several years, for security reasons. Police on Friday closed all roads leading to Taksim Square with barricades and increased security.
Unions started marking May 1 Thursday before the COVID-19 lockdown and also urged people to celebrate from their balconies on Friday night and participate on social media.
Turkey ranks seventh in the world for the number of confirmed infections with 120,204 cases, according to Johns Hopkins University, although experts believe that the actual toll of the pandemic is higher than the count. The official death toll in the country is 3,174.