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Dispatch from Istanbul: The protests rage on
Tear gas cannisters explode. Water cannons pound demonstrators. And the streets are aflame.
Police shoot water cannons at protesters near the prime minister's office in Istanbul late Sunday night.
Police shoot water cannons at protesters near the prime minister's office in Istanbul late Sunday night. AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis
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STANBUL, TURKEY — Last night, as Taksim Square and Gezi Park settled into a new normalcy of celebratory and peaceful occupation, the nearby neighborhood of Besiktas erupted as the next front line of Turkey's new anti-government movement. Late into Sunday night and Monday morning, thousands of protesters descended on this upscale section of the city where Prime Minister Erdogan keeps his offices.

(Read my first two dispatches on this movement, which began as a protest to preserve a beloved park and has grown into a wholesale rejection of Turkey's leaders, here and here.)

The access roads alongside the hulking BJK Inonu soccer stadium were under the protesters' control. Demonstrators have established blockades made of extracted fencing and any loose metal and stone they can find or pull up. The police had taken a defensive position along Dolmabahce Road next to the Bosphorus and have their own bulkhead behind an armored vehicle.

The protesters have become more savvy and emboldened in their techniques handling tear gas. Nearly everybody is equipped with a facemask, eyewear, and a form of liquid antacid similar to Mylanta. The over-the-counter medicine is poured onto people's eyes or sprayed around the face to counteract the effects of the tear gas. The crowd is also more brazen in running up to an active tear gas cannister and tossing it back at authorities.

I was stuck in the wave of tear gas. I can assure you — it works very quickly. Your throat burns and your eyes swell and tear instantly.

There is a remarkable amount of young women standing right alongside the men on the frontline. Ozge Guneysu, 23, and Ceylan Tupeu, 24, are typical of the women I encountered on the street. Fashionable in skinny jeans and sneakers, they act and speak with an unwavering assertiveness about their place in this movement.

Frontline women: Guneysu and Tupeu (Courtesy Ben Pomeroy)

"We can't let the boys do it by themselves!" Guneysu told me. The industrial engineer went on to say that it is the first time the youth in Turkey have had the opportunity to get involved in something like this. "It's our freedom. [The prime minister] is culturally different than us and our parents."

After a new front of gas clouds made their way uphill, I found Emre Kalkanli washing his eyes. He's 21 and a college sophomore in computer engineering. He gushed breathlessly that his "life now had purpose."

The author finds relief from tear gas (Courtesy Ben Pomeroy)

There is a chilling groan just before a water cannon launches what is purportedly a water chemical mix at the protesters. The dark armored vehicle just kind of sits looking abandoned as protesters hurl stones at it. Then you hear the noise. It's like the sound of an engine room of a ferry as it backs up to the dock. And then all of a sudden the cannon comes to life and long arcs of water pound upon anything it contacts. Sometimes it hits people and knocks them down, but as I left Besiktas tonight, the water was hitting large improvised shields held by teams of young men pushing toward the vehicle.

A fire caught in one of the old pines along the boulevard near a beautiful mosque. Many thousands of people were backed up on the avenue and switched their attention from the clouds of gas to the flames in the tree. It looked like disaster was really about to spread through this dry wooded park. But after a few minutes, the fire was extinguished and everybody cheered. In these hours of rebellion, when random acts of vandalism frequently take place, I have seen many, many pointless conflagrations set by protesters. But I also see design and restraint when needed.

The work week is now beginning. Will the protesters show up in the same numbers? Will they remain committed for days on end? Everybody is exhausted. But they are also incredibly excited.

An acquaintance turned to me and said out of nowhere: "It gets addictive. You miss the smell of the fires." He then headed down to join the growing army of protesters in Besiktas.

Ben Pomeroy
Ben Pomeroy is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Bon Appetit and HowAboutWe.com. Formerly, he co-founded and produced a web-based radio show about environmental and sustainability issues called Now or Never. Read his blog here.

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