Istanbul calm ahead of May 1 protests

Police take extensive security measures as Turkey's largest city readies itself for Labor Day demonstrations.

Updated Jul 28, 2015

Early reports from Istanbul on Friday morning suggest the city is calm ahead of May 1 Labor Day demonstrations expected in major cities across Turkey.

Police take extensive security measures with thousands of extra officers deployed in Istanbul as trade unions and left-wing groups attempt to march to the city's iconic Taksim Square.

However, as in recent years, Taksim -- a major interchange on Istanbul's European side -- has been ruled out-of-bounds by the Turkish authorities.

May Day protests have previously been the catalyst for major street disorder in Istanbul and elsewhere in Turkey. 

Many members from the Confederation of Revolutionary Trade Unions of Turkey, or DISK, the Confederation of Public Sector Trade Unions (KESK), the Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects (TMMOB) and the Turkish Medical Association (TBB) will gather in Besiktas district Friday morning to attempt a march to Taksim.

Some members still are expected to get together in the nearby Sisli district, where DISK’s headquarter is located for a similar attempt to march Taksim.

Arzu Cekeroglu, DISK’s secretary-general, declared Wednesday that labour unions were determined to march to the square for May Day celebrations. "We won’t give up this square," she said.

Taksim Square remained closed to Labor Day demonstrations between 1977 and 2010. Thirty-eight years ago, dozens of people were killed when unknown gunmen opened fire on a Labor Day crowd, causing a stampede in the square. Since 2013, union activists have again been barred from marching to the public square.

The site has symbolic status for trade unionists and labor activists.

Also, unions have said that a ban on gathering at the iconic site contravenes both the Turkish constitution and European human rights legislation on freedom of assembly. 

However, Turkish Premier Ahmet Davutoglu said that Taksim Square is open for "symbolic memorial."

Istanbul governorship said Wednesday that the site would be off-limit to mass demonstrations.

Istanbul police have made plans to keep groups out of the site. At least 10,000 police will be on duty in Istanbul while 7,000 other will be in Ankara as a part of security measures. Police leave in Istanbul has been cancelled.

Additional police forces have been re-located to major cities like Ankara and Istanbul.

Local newspapers reported that more than 60 police water cannon trucks would on streets to break up violent protests.

Istanbul governorship decided to close major streets leading to Taksim Square, which will be out-of-bounds to car traffic.

Metro and tramway lines also will not be operational. Ferry services across the Bosporus are also expected to be affected.

Security barriers around the Taksim Square have already been installed.

Some labor unions have moved their celebrations out of Istanbul to prevent possible violent scenes. The TURK-IS union, for example, said they are going to celebrate May Day in Zonguldak, Turkey’s northern province, instead of Istanbul’s Kadikoy district where their celebrations took place in 2014.

In a similar fashion, Memur-sen union said its May Day rally would be in Konya, Turkey’s central province, while the Kamu-sen union said they would be in Adana, a southern province.