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Turkish official says police played no role in protester's death

By Ivan Watson and Gul Tuysuz, CNN
updated 8:40 AM EDT, Wed September 11, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ahmet Atakan died from injuries amid anti-government protests in Hatay province Tuesday
  • Turkey's interior minister: "There was no police intervention" and he "fell from a high place"
  • Turkish authorities in Hatay have not responded to requests for an official autopsy report

Ankara, Turkey (CNN) -- A day after conflicting accounts over the death of a protester sparked clashes between security forces and demonstrators in several Turkish cities, Turkey's interior minister insisted police played no role in the man's fatal injuries.

"What happened in Hatay is a saddening event. I wish peace from God for our deceased citizen," Muammer Guler told journalists. He was referring to Ahmet Atakan, 22, who died as a result of his injuries amid a predawn battle between demonstrators and riot police in the Turkish border province of Hatay on Tuesday.

"The investigation into the event was started immediately. However, as you also watched yesterday, footage emerged that shows there was no police intervention and that (he) fell from a high place. This is what the autopsy report says as well," Guler said.

Turkish authorities in the province of Hatay have not responded to CNN requests to share Atakan's official autopsy report.

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Meanwhile, eyewitnesses and family members of the dead protester have insisted that Atakan did not fall from a building. Rather, they told CNN, he was shot in the head at close range by a tear gas canister fired by a passing police armored personnel carrier.

Since a wave of protests erupted over government plans to replace a park in Istanbul with a shopping mall last May, human rights groups have documented cases of a number of activists who were blinded, suffered brain damage, or remain in medically induced comas a result of tear gas canisters fired at their heads.

But Turkish government officials have pointed to two videos to bolster the case that Atakan fell to his death Tuesday morning.

One video from a camera aboard a police vehicle showed debris apparently being hurled from rooftops at the vehicle as it drove up Hatay's Gunduz Street. For months, the area has been the site of nearly weekly clashes between demonstrators from Turkey's Alawite religious minority and Turkish security forces.

At one moment in the video, the body of a man tumbles off of a dark curb onto the street, apparently forcing the police vehicle to swerve.

Later Tuesday, a second grainy video emerged on Turkish television that showed something that could have been a human body falling down the side of a building as police armored vehicles navigated Gunduz Street.

It is not clear whether the interior minister's statements or the two videos will persuade many critics of the Turkish government.

At a funeral in Hatay on Tuesday, angry relatives, friends and neighbors chanted "murderer police" as they carried Atakan's casket to a freshly dug grave.

"Erdogan's dogs killed my son," screamed Atakan's mother Emsal, in an interview with CNN. She was referring to Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's prime minister.

Atakan is the second man from his neighborhood -- and from the city of Hatay's Alawite community -- to have died amid clashes with police.

"How he died doesn't concern me, it's just a detail," said Hasan Akgol, a member of parliament from the opposition Republican People's Party in Hatay.

"The big picture is he died during a police intervention," he added in an interview with CNN. "How many more young kids are going to be killed by this kind of stuff?"

At least four other anti-government demonstrators -- all from Turkey's Alawite and Alevi religious minorities -- have also died as a result of injuries received amid the anti-government unrest that has ebbed and waned across Turkey throughout the summer.

"No matter what happened, we know that there are ethnic-based provocations in Hatay," Interior Minister Guler told journalists Wednesday.

Tear gas wafted through downtown Hatay late Tuesday night, after angry residents emerged from Atakan's funeral to again clash with Turkish riot police on Gunduz Street.

And on Tuesday night, Turkish riot police fired water cannons, plastic pellets and tear gas in Hatay province -- and in the cities of Ankara, Izmir and Istanbul -- to disperse angry protests that erupted in response to Atakan's death.

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