What started as a peaceful sit-in by environmental activists trying to dissuade the city authorities from building a gleaming new shopping complex, mosque and a replica of a former army barracks on the site of Gezi Park, a small island of green in an otherwise heavily built-up and traffic choked part of Istanbul quickly turned into an all out nationwide protest against the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish Prime Minister, and his mildly Islamist AK Party. Within days, hundreds of thousands of people had come out onto the streets of Istanbul and regional cities from Antakya in the South to Ankara, the capital. The protesters blamed the police forces for being unnecessarily heavy handed but also accused the Prime Minister of becoming increasingly autocratic after more than 10 years in power and having gained a just under 50% of the vote and a large majority in parliament after the last election.
After initially brushing off the protesters and their demands and claiming that Twitter, widely used by the protesters, was a 'menace' and was being used to spread 'lies' he instructed his deputy Bulent Arinc to apologise for 'the use of excessive force' which was 'wrong and … unfair'. Guy Martin, based in Istanbul, witnessed the protests and documented the mood and spirit among the protesters.