Friday, May 2, 2008

Bir Mayıs

There was no dancing around a ribbon-bedecked pole here yesterday. In Istanbul, May 1st is a day to bring out the heavy artillery. (Then again, when isn't that the case?)

It was sunny, beautiful, and very, very quiet as Ayla and I walked up Istıklal Cadessı to Taksim Meydanı, the massive central square in Beyoğlu where protests for workers' rights have been banned since 37 demonstrators were killed in 1977. With probably 75 percent of the shops along the way shuttered, the workers' groups had, in a strange way, achieved part of their goal: making May Day a holiday, at least in this part of town.

It seemed unlikely, however, that they would be able to fulfill their declared intention to march on Taksim, which was completely encircled by fencing and guarded at every possible entrance by mobs of riot police, as well as snipers (ahem, sharpshooters) on the roofs of nearby buildings. I read later that there were 30,000 police patrolling Istanbul.

With area schools closed, tourist season already seemingly in full swing, and transit closures keeping many people at home, there were plenty of gawkers watching the cops watch the empty streets.

And with the square so heavily guarded, what protesters there were ended up in the side streets, including those of the hotel district just northeast of the square, giving coffee-sipping tourists quite an eyeful. (And at least one group of heavily styled and shopping-bag-laden women a noseful of tear gas as they tottered along the cobbled street in their high heels.)

So, we heard some chants, got some whiffs of gas, and called it a day, not realizing that the real action (such as it was) was right up the street from my house!

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