ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkish police clashed with thousands of protesters Tuesday following the death of a Turkish teenager, who had been in a coma since being hit by a police tear-gas canister during anti-government protests last year.
Riot police fired tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets to disperse anti-government protesters hurling stones and bottles in central Ankara, the capital, and Istanbul, the largest city. The unrest swelled within hours of news that Berkin Elvan, 15, had died in an Istanbul hospital nine months after losing consciousness with a fractured skull.
Protests and clashes were reported in at least nine other cities, including in the Aegean port of Izmir where, according to the Dogan news agency, police used water cannons to disperse some 10,000 demonstrators. Authorities could provide no details on injuries to protesters or police.
Outside the Istanbul hospital itself, protesters holding a vigil threw stones at police vehicles, and officers responded with tear gas.
His family said Berkin, who turned 15 in January, was on his way to a shop to buy bread when he was caught up in a street protest and struck in the head with a high-velocity gas canister. Several police officers were questioned about Berkin’s head injury but none has been charged.
His death raised the number of fatalities from last summer’s protests to at least eight, including a police officer.
The anti-government demonstrations started out as a small, local protest against government plans to turn a central Istanbul park into a shopping mall. After police used force against those protesters May 31, protests spread nationwide as demonstrators denounced Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian style and demanded greater democratic freedom.
Police say 3 million people demonstrated from May to September, during which human rights groups estimate around 8,000 people were injured. Many were struck at close range by gas canisters.
New York-based Human Rights Watch said Turkey needed to deliver justice to Berkin’s family by imprisoning the police officers responsible.
Emma Sinclair-Webb, senior Turkey researcher at Human Rights Watch, said Berkin “has become a symbol of Turkey’s record of police violence and lack of accountability.”