Istanbul (AFP) – Istanbul police on Tuesday detained more than 80 people and placed a security lockdown on the city as the Turkish metropolis marked a tense May Day.
The annual workers’ holiday has traditionally been a place for confrontation between protesters and police but in recent years the authorities have left nothing to chance by entirely barring access to key protest areas.
The central Taksim Square was entirely barricaded off by police, with images taken from the air showing the usually thronged urban space deserted apart from officers.
Authorities also barred access to the city’s main shopping street, the pedestrianised Istiklal Avenue, which has in the past been the scene of protest marches.
Almost all shops and cinemas were closed and boarded up the length of the street, with the public only set to be allowed through in the evening, an AFP photographer said.
Only police officers could be seen strolling down the eerily deserted thoroughfare.
Protesters seeking to defy the ban on demonstrations in Taksim by marching towards the square were roughly arrested, with police pinning detainees to the ground, an AFP photographer said.
In total, police arrested 84 people in Istanbul, Istanbul police said, with most of the detentions coming in the Besiktas area. They were taken away in buses for questioning.
Meanwhile, thousands of people took part in officially-sanctioned May 1 events in the Istanbul district of Maltepe at a vast meeting area specially designated by the authorities to host the May 1 marches.
“Today’s march is a way for the working class to breathe and to raise our demands,” said protester Huda at Maltepe.
Similar events were taking place across the country, including the capital Ankara and Turkey’s third city of Izmir.
Political tensions are high in Turkey as the country prepares for snap parliamentary and presidential elections on June 24, where President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will be seeking a second term as head of state and a thumping parliamentary majority.
Anadolu said that over 26,000 police were on duty in Istanbul supported by three helicopters, 85 water cannon vehicles and 67 armoured vehicles.