US urges Turkish police, protesters to exercise restraint

The United States has urged the Turkish police and protesters to exercise restraint after hundreds of demonstrators were arrested on Friday during May Day protests.

US State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke said Washington fully supports freedom of expression and assembly, including the right to peaceful protest, as fundamental to any democracy.

He added that the US urges the Turkish police to exercise restraint, but also urges those demonstrating to exercise their rights in quota peaceful manner.quot Rathke said, quotWe don’t condone attempts to provoke violence by any party.quot

May Day in Turkey led to familiar images, as authorities refused to allow protesters to demonstrate in iconic Taksim Square in downtown Istanbul, the origin and flashpoint of anti-government protests in the summer of 2013. Friday was marked by tension over a government-imposed ban on May 1 demonstrations and the detention of hundreds of demonstrators in the city.

In Taksim, police intervened when a group of protesters managed to reach the square despite a police blockade. Several demonstrators were detained.

Five people were also detained in the central Istanbul neighborhood of Okmeydani after police found marbles and gas masks in their possession. News reports said the detainees were stopped and searched by the police, who have the power under a recently passed controversial internal security law to search people based on “reasonable doubt.”

Parliament recently adopted a government-sponsored bill that expanded police power and severely restricts the freedom of assembly. The security legislation has drawn international condemnation and rights groups urged Ankara to withdraw the anti-democratic bill.

Rathke said the US had earlier spoken publicly about the concerns raised within the international community and by Turkish citizens about the recently passed security legislation as an example of the importance of protecting fundamental freedoms.

quotThis is a topic we continue to discuss and raise with Turkish officials — the importance of safeguarding due process and the fundamental freedoms that are enshrined in Turkey’s Constitution,quot the spokesman added.