‘Standing man’ inspires silent demonstration in Turkey

(CNN) – A single man stood silently in Istanbul’s Taksim Square for hours Monday night, defying police who broke up weekend anti-government protests with tear gas and water cannon and drawing hundreds of others to his vigil.

For more than five hours, he appeared to stare at a portrait of Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the modern Turkish state. Police eventually moved in to arrest many of those who joined him, but whether Erdem Gunduz — a performance artist quickly dubbed the “standing man” — was in custody was unclear early Tuesday.

Turkey has been wracked by more than two weeks of protests against the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. But many of those who joined Gunduz late Monday said they were standing only for peace, not taking sides.

“I’m standing against all violence,” said Koray Konuk, one of those arrested. “I’m standing there so that the events that we’ve been witnessing and the events taking place over the last two to three weeks can come to a standstill.”

Konuk, 45, told CNN that police put him on a bus with up to 20 other people who had joined Gunduz, but Gunduz was not with them.

“I was just standing. They arrested a man who was just standing,” he said. “That is absurd.”

Monday’s hushed tableau came two days after police swept into Taksim Square and neighboring Gezi Park to clear out anti-Erdogan protesters. The demonstrators tried to return to the park on Sunday, only to be driven back by police.

Trade unions put fresh pressure on Erdogan earlier Monday, mounting a nationwide strike. But a crowd that marched on Taksim Square dispersed when faced with riot squads backed by water cannon.

The protests started at the end of May over authorities’ plans to turn Gezi Park, central Istanbul’s last green space, into a mall. They quickly turned into large anti-government demonstrations that included calls for political reforms.

‘There is a level of desperation’

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