Riot police hit protesters in Turkey with water canons and pepper spray in at least two separate instances on Monday in a residential neighborhood in Istanbul, where groups of activists were demonstrating against plans to build a mosque at the site of a protected olive grove.
The Validebag olive grove is located inside a residential area and is protected by the government. It has been the scene of demonstrations over the last month as activists are concerned the mosque's construction will diminish the protected status of the area. Protests escalated on Friday, heating up after the activists attempted to build an additional tent for their encampment and riot police fired rubber bullets in an attempt to clear people out, according to local news outlet Hurriyet Daily News.
A video from Monday's protests shows riot police and demonstrators separated by a barrier fence at the grove. About one minute into the video, a few women can be seen pushing through the barrier and eventually getting pepper sprayed by riot police. One woman can be seen kicking at the shield of an officer after the initial round of pepper spray.
Video footage from the Validebag protests on Monday night shows continued tension between activists and police, as demonstrators are hit with water canons inside their encampment.
While the olive grove protests escalate in Turkey's largest city, environmental activists were enraged over the future of another olive grove in a separate part of the country. In the western village of Yirca, Turkish construction company Kolin Group toppled 6,000 olive trees on November 7 to make way for a power plant. The demolition began despite protests and a court ruling blocking the plant's construction.
"Urgent measures need to be taken so that the events in Yirca are not repeated in other parts of Turkey," said Deniz Bayram, a lawyer for Greenpeace Mediterranean, according to the Guardian.
Turkey's Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arinc said the company has to respect the ruling handed down by the court, which determined a lack of public interest in building the plant, the Guardianreported.
Protests over endangered green space in Turkey highlight tension between the government's aim to push the country forward economically and conflicting environmental interests of activists and local residents. The Validebag demonstrations are reminiscent of the protests that spread through in May of 2013 over plans endorsed by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to turn Istanbul's Gezi Park into a shopping center.
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