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Turkey: Protester killed in clash with police during Syria sit-in

By Ivan Watson and Gul Tuysuz, CNN
updated 8:37 PM EDT, Tue September 10, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Turkish anti-government protester Ahmet Atakan dies in the early hours Tuesday
  • The 22-year-old was taking part in a sit-in against military intervention in Syria
  • Hatay governor's office says he fell from a building after police and protesters clashed
  • Anti-government protesters also clashed with police in Ankara and Istanbul, media say

Hatay, Turkey (CNN) -- Clashes erupted across Turkey on Tuesday after a predawn skirmish between police and protesters left one demonstrator dead in the border province of Hatay.

Crowds of demonstrators gathered in the cities of Istanbul, Ankara and Hatay to denounce the death of Ahmet Atakan, a 22-year-old who recently graduated from accounting school.

Police in Istanbul dispersed demonstrators using water cannons, tear gas and rubber pellets. Thousands of demonstrators tried to reach Taksim Square, a main commercial area that has been the site of clashes since May. Riot police prevented small groups from congregating in the square.

Demonstrators erected barricades, threw stones and shot firecrackers at the police. Crowds of protestors chanted "Down with the government" and "Solidarity with Armutlu" referring to the neighborhood in Hatay where Atakan was fatally injured.

Turkey divided over Syria

According to the official government broadcaster, TRT, the tear gas around the Taksim area blew into a nearby football stadium where the youth Swedish national soccer team was squaring off against Turkey's national squad.

The Spanish referee suspended the game after the tear gas wafted into the stadium, which is named after Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Several days ago, Istanbul lost a hotly contested bid to host the 2020 Olympics to rival Tokyo.

Many analysts said the widely criticized use of police force to crush anti-government protests last June may have played in a role in Istanbul's Olympic defeat.

Differing accounts of how protester died

There is still controversy over how Atakan, the protester in Hatay, died.

In a press release, the Hatay governor's office said Atakan was killed in a fall during a clash between police and demonstrators.

Shortly before 1 a.m. on Tuesday, a patrol unit reported that one person "had fallen to the street from a building" and an ambulance was sent, the governor's office said.

"However, people at the scene wanted to take the injured individual to the hospital with their own resources, and our citizen Ahmet Atakan was taken to the Antakya Government Hospital, but he lost his life in spite of all efforts at the hospital."

Police released a video taken from atop an armored vehicle that showed the blurry image of a man apparently falling off a street curb into the street.

But eyewitnesses insisted Atakan was struck in the head at short range by a tear gas canister fired from the turret of an armored vehicle.

Eylem Mansuroglu said that immediately after being hit by the canister, Atakan was grazed by a passing police vehicle. Atakan's blood still stained the pavement where residents erected a makeshift memorial for the dead man.

Hasan Akgol, a parliament member from Turkey's opposition CHP party, told CNN he had seen Atakan's body on a stretcher.

"I couldn't believe it, seeing a young kid covered in blood," Akgol said. "He had an injury behind his ear, blood all over his body, scratches on his body."

Atakan is the second anti-government protester to die in Hatay this summer.

Neighborhood rises up in protest

Atakan's parents told CNN their son had gone out to the streets after attending a wedding Monday night, to attend a protest sit-in.

They said it was a weekly protest in honor of Abdullah Comert, another young man from the same neighborhood who was killed in a clash with police last June, barely 3 blocks from where Atakan was fatally injured. The protest was also against the Turkish government and its strong support for Syrian rebels and a proposed U.S.-led military operation in Syria.

Bergen: Syria plunging Mideast into sectarian war?

"My son protested against war so that there would be peace. In Turkey they kill those who want peace," screamed Atakan's weeping mother, Emsal, before her son's burial on Tuesday.

"Erdogan's dogs killed my son," she wailed.

In the afternoon on Tuesday, a procession of more than a thousand people escorted Atakan's coffin to a cemetery, chanting, "We are all Ahmet. You can kill one but not all," and "Murderer police will answer for their actions."

After the burial, crowds marched to the street where Atakan was injured.

Police used water cannons and fired tear gas to disperse the demonstrators.

Protestors set up burning barricades and threw stones at armored police vehicles.

Much of the neighborhood of Armutlu appeared to be rising up in protest.

Women screamed out of their balconies, demanding police stay out of the area. From an apartment building, one resident hurled a potted plant off a balcony at an armored vehicle passing on the street below. A portly woman threw a plate down on to the street. One man carried a toilet out into the road and smashed it onto the ground to build a barricade out of the debris.

Aid worker: Syrian refugee crisis creating long-term burden for neighbors

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