Turkish police batter Gezi Park protestors on anniversary of nationwide protests

Turkey on May 31 marked the ninth anniversary of the 2013 Gezi Protests, in which police battered protesters around Istanbul's Taksim Square.

Duvar English - Reuters

Turkish police on May 31 clashed with protesters around Istanbul's main Taksim Square as they gathered to mark the anniversary of nationwide anti-government demonstrations that began nine years ago in nearby Gezi Park.

The 2013 demonstrations were the biggest popular challenge to then-PM Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's rule. Erdoğan, who is now president, has equated the protesters with Kurdish militants and those accused of orchestrating a coup attempt in 2016.

A Turkish court sentenced eight people, including philanthropist Osman Kavala, to jail last month, finding them guilty of organising and financing the so-called Gezi protests.

They denied the charges, saying the anti-government demonstrations erupted spontaneously nationwide and were protected by constitutional rights.

Some 1,000 people gathered on a street near Taksim Square on the evening of May 31, carrying pictures of those who were sentenced to jail.

They also held up pictures of those who died when police intervened in 2013, as well as a banner reading, "The darknes will go away, Gezi will remain."

"Erdoğan is going to go. There is no other way," the protesters chanted.

The crowds were blocked by riot police carrying shields when they attempted to walk to Taksim Square and the main Istiklal Avenue. They also used tear gas to disperse the groups.

A person fell ill due to the tear gas, while the police battered Workers' Party of Turkey (TİP) deputy Ahmet Şık.

The police detained dozens of people by handcuffing them behind their back. The number of detentions has not yet been clarified.

During the protest, a police drone fell on a police officer, causing them to faint.

Earlier, smaller groups of people clashed with police in other areas near Taksim as they attempted to walk to the square.

Gezi Park protests initially began in Istanbul in May 2013 as a reaction to renovation plans of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), which aimed to construct a replica Ottoman barracks on the city's few remaining green spots. The protests later grew into nationwide protests and spread to other cities.

Earlier in the day, members of parliament from the Workers' Party of Turkey (TIP) hung a giant banner from one of the bridges spanning the Bosphorus.

After a scuffle, police took down the banner that read "Everywhere is Taksim, everywhere is resistance" - a popular slogan during the 2013 protests.

Ankara's Western allies, rights groups and Europe's top human rights court say last month's court decision and jailings were politically motivated and meant to intimidate Erdoğan's opponents.

Critics say the verdict was aimed at criminalising Gezi and creating the perception that protesters were funded by foreign powers.