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Turkish Unions Hold National Strike as Protesters Face Worst Crackdown to Date

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More than 800,000 people are believed to be taking part in a national strike by Turkish unions in protest of the government’s crackdown on nearly three weeks of protests. The strike follows a weekend that saw the protests’ worst violence to date. On Sunday, around 400 people were arrested as police used tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets in the streets of Istanbul, Ankara and other cities. Medics treating wounded demonstrators were among those detained. We’re joined from Turkey by Çigdem Öztürk, an independent journalist covering the protests for Express magazine.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: In these last few minutes, we turn to Turkey, where a nationwide strike called by several of the country’s leading unions is underway now with calls to end the police crackdown on demonstrations. The Confederation of Public Workers’ Unions and the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions are among those filling the streets. Other groups representing doctors, engineers, dentists have also joined the action.

Today’s strike comes as riot police continued their violent crackdown on protesters, using tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets to disperse the crowds. The anti-government protests have swept the country for more than two weeks and were renewed this weekend following the forced eviction of protesters at Gezi Park, which was occupied for 18 days by people protesting against plans for its redevelopment. The prime minister has defended the crackdown, saying he did his duty as prime minister.

For more, we go to independent journalist, also speaking to us from Istanbul and from Express magazine, Çiğdem Öztürk.

Can you describe what’s happening now?

ÇIĞDEM ÖZTÜRK: Well, hello. Can you hear me?

AMY GOODMAN: Yes, we hear you fine.

ÇIĞDEM ÖZTÜRK: OK, so, hello to everybody.

Actually, what’s happening at the moment in Instanbul is we are waiting a little bit tensely about the 4:00 rally, which is for the general strike declared by the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions of Turkey and Confederation of Public Workers’ Unions. So, at 4:00 normally, the people will march in Taksim Square, but the Instanbul governorship declared that this is not a legal act, and they will not let the people walk. So, there is just a few minutes, and the people are gathering, not just in Istanbul; as this is a general strike, it’s all over Turkey and in other parts of Turkey, as well. The people, the civil servants and the workers are on strike, and they are walking. So we’ll see what’s going to happen.

Maybe I could tell you a little bit about what happened last night. Last night, Instanbul had to face one of the most brutal police attacks—and not just the police, actually, also the AKP, the ruling party, supporters were some—in some groups, were on the streets with sticks and knives, trying to attack the demonstrators. And yesterday, again, according to the bar association, here at least 400 people were detained. But the problem is there is no real numbers. So, they only get news by phones and by interviewing people, so we don’t know the exact numbers, and we don’t know the names of the people who were detained. Well, that’s the situation, in short.

AMY GOODMAN: Çiğdem Öztürk, we just have about 30 seconds, independent journalist, also speaking to us from Instanbul and from Express magazine. The significance of where these protests go from here?

ÇIĞDEM ÖZTÜRK: Well, actually, what’s going to happen, the main problem is the governor and the political parties are not so in the protests. Opining by the political parties is only the Justice and Development Party in the protest. The least is the people, I would say. I mean, they did [inaudible] on the prime minister naming the protesters as some workers and some, you know, terrorists. But, anyway, these are people. Just a part of it is from organizations. So this is a moment for the people.

AMY GOODMAN: Çiğdem Öztürk, we’re going to have to leave it there. I thank you very much for being with us. We’ll continue to cover Turkey.

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