Taksim Square

Traffic started flowing once again in Istanbul’s Taksim Square early this morning after the completion of a controversial pedestrianization project.

The road between Tarlabaşı Boulevard and Cumhuriyet Avenue was reopened to traffic after almost a year of construction, by taking the road underground and removing any kind of vehicle traffic and shops from a total of 98,000 square meters of area around Taksim Square.

Officials have said the opening of the road in Taksim will help ease Istanbul’s chaotic traffic, which is expected to become more hectic with the opening of schools on Sept. 16. The new road has two lanes just for buses on each side for a length of 100 meters, as well as 4,500-square-meter area for bus stops.

Underground tunnel in Istanbul’s Taksim Square opened to traffic

The pedestrianization project, which was carried out by the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality, included not only bringing the traffic underground but also constructing a shopping mall and residence in the style of an old Ottoman artillery barracks in the last green area of Istanbul’s city center, Gezi Park.

The plan prompted protests starting on May 27, when municipality workers started removing trees in the Gezi Park in order to build the shopping mall/residence. The heavy-handed police response to the environmental movement sparked demonstrations that engulfed the country on May 31. An Istanbul court canceled the barracks project in June, while permitting the underground traffic construction to be completed.

Istanbul’s Beyoglu Municipality organized the first Iftar, or fast-breaking meal, of this year at Taksim square on Tuesday, but anti-government protests were still going on around the square.

“It is very rare for the Istanbul government to organize iftar parties at Taksim Square. Usually they are prepared near Blue Mosque, in Uskudar and Fatih districts,” said Nuray Ozgen, a hotel manager.

With a box consisting of a few dates and olives, one loaf of bread and one soft drink, the simple yet free iftar meal attracted over 1,500 people to come.

“I came to Taksim for iftar to remember the protests happened in the past weeks, not just for food. The protest is very meaningful for the year of 2013,” Ozgen told Xinhua after taking a picture of herself with cellphone.

While religious music was played at the square, intended to send Ramadan greetings and peaceful messages to all, about 4,000 people were still holding anti-government protests, shouting slogans from time to time.

“Of course Ramadan should be peaceful and joyful, but fighting for democracy is more important than keeping a fake religious atmosphere now,” Ahmet Ascioglu, a protester, told Xinhua. “This protest will not finish because of Ramadan.”

Just 200 meters away from the iftar party at the square, in the Istiklal street, a major business area of Istanbul, riot police again fired water canons to the protesters who refused to step back.

Many policemen were around the square, watching people have iftar meals. Ill at ease in the presence of the police, many people finished their meal quickly and left.

During the iftar, a man, dressed in white Sufi costume but wearing an anti-gas mask on the face, as a gesture to protest against police’s violent actions, started to perform Sufi dance.

Soon his dance was stopped by government supporters and other people. “Don’t disturb our iftar meal We don’t want politics here in Ramadan!” one iftar participant stood up and shouted at the dancer.

The Sufi dancer, named Ziya Azazi, later told Xinhua that he did not act out of political intentions. “I just want to express that Turkey needs unity against separations, polarization and fights,” Azazi said.

Taksim square has been the cradle of anti-government protests that spread across Turkey in the past weeks. The protests erupted after riot police violently broke up a peaceful sit-in against the government’s demolition of Gezi Park near the square.


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