Turkish police detained dozens of people, including trade union leaders, who tried to stage a May Day march in Istanbul on Friday while much of the country is under a lockdown order because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions of Turkey (DISK), announced that its head Arzu Cerkezoglu and some other union members were detained near Istanbul’s Taksim square after they wanted to lay wreaths of carnations to commemorate the International Workers’ Day.
Local media and social media footage showed police and demonstrators wearing masks brawling with each other.
Leaders of Turkish confederation @diskinsesi arrested on #1May including leadership of EPSU/PSI affiliates and President @ArzuCerkezoglu outside their union building https://t.co/Dt6w69jahM We ask for immediate release #solidarity @imamoglu_int @RTErdogan @JosepBorrellF pic.twitter.com/EBTpV72wHn
— EPSU (@EPSUnions) May 1, 2020
The police prevented some journalists from filming the detentions, according to Duvar English news portal.
The police detained at least 25 people in Istanbul for attempting to hold a rally during a three-day curfew enforced on April 30, midnight.
The demonstrators were later released, the Istanbul’s governor’s office statement said.
It accused DISK of insisting on collectively marching to the square in defiance of COVID-19 measures, which includes a ban on demonstrations, instead of leaving wreaths in the square as permitted by the governor’s office.
“We informed the group that they could head to the square by vehicles like other unions were doing, but they insisted on marching,” the statement said.
— Ödül Bozkurt (@OdulBozkurt) May 1, 2020
DISK Deputy Chair Remzi Caliskan labeled the move as a part of the Turkish government’s inhibitory attitude towards the opposing movements.
The group had aimed at laying carnations at a site in the square where 34 people were massacred during the 1977 May Day celebrations.
No one has ever been brought to justice for the massacre.
Cerkezoglu tweeted after being detained that workers all over Turkey have to work without any social distancing measures, but the police blocked a symbolic celebration of workers in Istanbul.
DISK accused the police of destroying their wreath when they broke up the march. It has vowed to leave the broken symbol at the square.
A group of lawmakers from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP), and Turkey Worker’s Party (TİP) were later allowed to take DiSK’s damaged wreath to the square.
Trade unions urged people to celebrate May Day from their balconies and participate on social media.
"Every balcony a May Day area, every window a public square"
With #Turkey's major cities under #coronavirus weekend lockdown on 1 May holiday, unions call for collective demonstrations from home tomorrow at 9pm. #1Mayıshttps://t.co/AOnfhJMzO6
— Jennifer Hattam (@TheTurkishLife) April 30, 2020
Ankara has imposed partial lockdown in 31 provinces every weekend and on national holidays under its coronavirus measures. Laborers who have to continue working amid the pandemic are excluded from the curfew.
It came after President Tayyip Erdogan said the country must carry on production to ensure the economic “wheels go on turning.”
The number of people who have died from COVID-19 in Turkey has risen by 84 in the past 24 hours to 3,258, with 2,188 new cases of the virus, Health Ministry data showed on Friday.
The total number of cases rose to 122,392, the highest total outside Western Europe or the United States. Turkey ranks seventh in the world for the number of confirmed cases.
Erdogan’s government has banned Taksim square for demonstrations since Istanbul’s Gezi Park protests in 2013 against Erdogan’s rule sparked protests across the country.
In the wake of those protests and a failed coup in 2016, the Erdogan regime has cracked down on any dissent.