Turkish police detain 217 May Day protesters in Istanbul, minister says

ISTANBUL (Reuters) -Turkish police detained 217 people on Wednesday, Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya said, after tear gas and rubber bullets were used to stop the protesters reaching Taksim Square, the traditional focal point of May Day rallies in Istanbul.

President Tayyip Erdogan said on the eve of May Day that the annual protests would not be allowed to take place on Taksim Square, which was cordoned off by police.

Legal experts say this stance violates the right of Turks to organise public meetings and demonstrations, a right upheld by the Constitutional Court in a ruling last October.

The leader of Turkey's main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), Ozgur Ozel, called for the rally to go ahead in the square despite a ban issued by the Istanbul governor's office.

"If May 1 is not celebrated in the country's main square, democracy is in trouble. This struggle will continue until Taksim is free," Ozel told reporters on Wednesday in the district of Sarachane.

Ozel and Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu, who was re-elected this year on a CHP ticket, then joined workers and labour union members for the march towards Taksim Square nearby to protest against soaring inflation and economic hardships.

However, the May Day organising committee shortly afterwards announced the end of the demonstration in Sarachane following the police intervention, drawing angry jeers from the crowd, a video posted on X showed.

Authorities had deployed snipers on the historic Valens Aqueduct in Sarachane and created a barricade with water cannon vehicles and dozens of police officers, blocking all routes to the square, Reuters video showed.

Some protesters threw stones at security forces as they tried to breach the barricades.

Yerlikaya said more than 42,000 police officers had been drafted in Istanbul for the demonstrations, held every year to mark International Labour Day.

Protests are often centred on Taksim Square, where 34 people were killed during demonstrations on May 1, 1977.

(Reporting by Bulent Usta, Mert Ozkan, Umit Bektas, Dilara Senkaya, Burcu Karakas; Editing by Ros Russell and Marguerita Choy)