ISTANBUL -- Police in Istanbul detained at least 15 people, including trade union leaders who tried to stage a May Day march in defiance of coronavirus lockdown rules and a ban on demonstrations at a historic square.
The Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions of Turkey, or DISK, tweeted that its chairman, Arzu Cerkezoglu, and several other union leaders were detained Friday while going to lay wreaths of carnations at Taksim Square.
Images showed police officers and demonstrators wearing masks and face guards engaged in tense encounters that involved close physical contact.
The Istanbul governor's office issued a statement saying the demonstrators were later released. The statement said that various trade unions left wreaths in Taksim Square while meeting conditions set by the governor's office, but alleged that DISK representatives insisted on marching together in violation of the lockdown and social-distancing rules.
Taksim Square holds symbolic value for Turkey’s labor movement. During a 1977 May Day event, 34 people were killed there when shots were fired into the crowd from a nearby building. Opposition lawmakers later were allowed to lay the confederation's wreaths.
Turkey has imposed partial lockdowns in 31 provinces every weekend and on national holidays. Exemptions apply, including for many laborers who continue to work amid the pandemic. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said the country must continue production to ensure the economic “wheels continue turning.”
The ban on May Day demonstrations in Taksim has been in effect for several years, due to security concerns. Police closed all roads leading to Taksim Square with barricades and increased security presence Friday.
Trade unions began marking May Day on Thursday ahead of the virus lockdown and also urged people to celebrate from their balconies Friday night and participate on social media.
Turkey ranks seventh among the world's countries in number of confirmed virus cases, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally. The Turkish government reported confirmed cases totaling 122,392 as of Friday, although experts believe actual number of people infected around the globe is much higher. Turkey's official virus-related death toll stands at 3,258.