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Woman labeled 'icon' of Turkey protests: It's not about me

By Ashley Fantz, CNN
updated 11:36 AM EDT, Wed June 5, 2013
  • Ceyda Sungur is pepper-sprayed by security forces
  • Images of her in a red dress, unarmed, move people to call her an icon of Turkey protests
  • Sungur says there is no difference between her and others tear-gassed in the park
  • Protests in Turkey have been raging for days, as riot police clash with demonstrators

(CNN) -- She has become a symbol of the violent protests in Turkey. Across social media, she's known as "The Woman in Red."

Wearing a red summer dress and a delicate necklace, the woman walked among demonstrators in Istanbul's Taksim Square when a security officer lurched at her and pepper-sprayed her so powerfully her hair was blown upward.

She could do nothing but turn away from the toxic spray. The officer, wearing a gas mask, lunged closer to her, unleashing more spray on the back of her neck. She covered her mouth as officers spray others.

The photos of the incident have been shared widely on social media in recent days. International headlines have proclaimed her an "icon" of the movement against the government of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan.

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"That photo encapsulates the essence of this protest," a math student named Esra told Reuters. "The violence of the police against peaceful protesters, people just trying to protect themselves and what they value."

The images have also inspired cartoons and graffiti in Turkey and around the world. And just seeing a woman in a red dress walking in public has apparently touched a chord with other women in the region, too.

Zeinobia tweeted, "The woman in red in Turkey, I wish to wear such dress in downtown Cairo without fear, without protests, without sexual harassment."

But the truth is that woman in red told CNN Wednesday that she wants no part of this.

What's happening in Turkey is the "people's revolt," she said.

Ceyda Sungur told Turkey's TV 24 that she is uncomfortable about her new fame. She doesn't want to be an icon of a movement.

"There are a lot of people who were at the park and they were also tear-gassed," she said. "There is not (a) difference between them and I."

But, she added, "I am not surprised" about the violence that evolved from what began days ago as a peaceful sit-in to protest plans to demolish a park in central Istanbul -- the last green space in the city center.

Some in the crowd chanted "Tayyip resign!"

"Shoulder to shoulder against fascism!" they shouted.

Riot police moved in, lobbing tear gas and using pepper spray. Protesters responded by hurling bottles, blocking bulldozers and setting up barricades. Eventually, protesters and police were locked in full-on clashes.

Read: What's driving protests and unrest

Erdogan conceded Saturday that Turkish security forces had used tear gas excessively against demonstrators.

Read: Erdogan: Successful leader or 'dictator'?

On Tuesday, a top Turkish official apologized for the "police aggression" and trade unions threw their weight behind the demonstrations.

The 240,000-member KESK confederation of public-sector workers called for a two-day strike to protest what it calls the "fascism" of Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party.

Riot police around Ankara's central Kizilay Square brought in armored vehicles topped with water cannon in a show of force Tuesday evening, but the demonstrations throughout Wednesday were mostly calm.

Read: Despite economic boom, protesters target Erdogan

CNN's Talia Kayali contributed to this report.

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