Tensions are running high in Turkey after two protesters were killed as riots swept the country following the death and burial of a teenage boy who had been injured by a police tear gas canister.
The events of the week show just how uneasy some conservative communities are getting with protesters after 15-year-old Berkin Elvan died on Tuesday, setting off the largest anti-government protests since national unrest erupted in Turkey last June, The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday.
Elvan had been in a coma since reportedly going to get bread for his family at the height of last year’s protests, The New York Times reported.
Deutsche Welle, Germany’s largest broadcaster, reported that Elvan’s mother blamed Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan for her son’s death.
“It wasn’t God who took my son — it was Erdogan,” she reportedly told journalists.
His father, Sami Elvan, told the BBC that his son had become a “child of the people.”
His death on Tuesday motivated people to go out onto the streets all over the country. Protesters and police clashed in over a dozen cities, including the capital, Ankara, Istanbul and Izmir, and tear gas and water cannons were brought in to disperse crowds. In Ankara alone, at least 15 people were detained, according to Reuters.
Human Rights Watch criticized police violence in Turkey and the lackluster investigation of Berkin Elvan’s case.
“Police violence against demonstrators is an endemic problem in Turkey,” HRW researcher Emma Sinclair-Webb wrote in a statement on the organization’s website. “A culture of impunity is entrenched. Berkin Elvan, the boy in the coma who never woke up, has become a symbol of Turkey’s record of police violence and lack of accountability. Berkin and his family deserve justice.”
Meanwhile, it’s unclear what Erdogan is doing to ease tensions.
“You were supposed to be democrats, pro-freedom,” Erdogan said on Thursday, accusing protesters of trying to sow chaos to influence local elections, Reuters reported. “These are charlatans, they have nothing to do with democracy, they do not believe in the ballot box. They are saying ‘let’s cause chaos and maybe we’ll get a result.’ But my brothers in Ankara and Turkey will give the necessary answer on March 30.”
The election will be the first since the Gezi Park riots in June, which drew protesters angry with what they called Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian style of ruling.
New laws, including one politicizing the judiciary and another limiting Internet freedoms, have sparked fresh discontent among anti-government activists.
The government’s prosecution office announced on Thursday that it was opening an investigation into the death of Burak Can Karamanoglu, 22, one protester killed in Istanbul on Wednesday, according to TurkishPress.com.
In addition to the human toll, the protests are also taking an economic toll, with the lira weakening amid the latest rush of demonstrations, Bloomberg BusinessWeek reported on Thursday.
Watch footage of the clashes below: