Turkish Government's Chemical Gas Attack Injures Thousands of Citizens
September 29, 2013
Sebnem Arsu / The New York Times
More than 11,000 civilian protesters nationwide were exposed to tear gas for up to eight hours a day over multiple days during the protests that convulsed Turkey for several weeks in June. Now, months after the government's use of chemical weapons, almost 40 percent of protesters surveyed by doctors still complain of continuing illness from their exposure to the tear gas that security forces used to quell antigovernment demonstrations.
Turkish Protesters Are Still Said to Be Ailing From Tear Gas
Sebnem Arsu / The New York Times
ISTANBUL (September 25, 2013) -- Almost 40 percent of protesters surveyed by a Turkish medical group complained of continuing repercussions from their exposure to the tear gas that security forces used to quell last spring's antigovernment demonstrations, the group says.
In a report released last week, the Turkish Medical Association, based in Ankara, the capital, said it had questioned more than 11,000 protesters nationwide who were exposed to tear gas for up to eight hours a day over multiple days during the protests, which convulsed Turkey for weeks in June. It said 39 percent complained about continuing effects from the exposure, with 14 percent saying they suffered skin irritations and 10 percent reporting dizziness and balance problems.
The government has strongly criticized the medical association, saying it is biased because its members - doctors, nurses and medical students - treated the wounded. During the protests, riot police officers detained dozens of doctors and other medical workers on charges of violating the public order.
The large protests grew out of more modest demonstrations in late May over the government's plans to raze Gezi Park in Istanbul to build a shopping mall, and left five people dead and thousands injured. The riot police used tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons liberally, and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was widely criticized for the harshness of the crackdown.
Separately, Physicians for Human Rights, a New York-based organization, released a report Wednesday that said Turkish security forces used tear gas on a large scale and targeted medical facilities during the demonstrations.
"The level and type of force used by Turkish authorities against peaceful protesters during the Gezi Park demonstrations, as well as the targeting of doctors who courageously treated them, was unnecessary and inexcusable," Dr. Vincent Iacopino, the senior medical adviser to Physicians for Human Rights and the report's co-author, said in a statement. "The use of all tear gas in Turkey must be banned, and government authorities must ensure these rampant abuses are never repeated."
The report said 11 lost their eyes after tear-gas canisters were fired directly at their faces.
The protests, which spread to more than 60 cities, moved beyond civil unrest to become an unprecedented outcry against the more than 10-year leadership of Mr. Erdogan and his pro-Islamic government, which demonstrators said had adopted authoritarian tactics.
Mr. Erdogan dismissed the criticisms and said the protests were the work of extremists and international interest groups, whom he would not identify, that are trying to overthrow the government.
President Abdullah Gul, in a speech on Tuesday in New York, where he attended the opening of the United Nations General Assembly, praised environmental concerns that set off the protests but said the New York police would have responded the same way had protesters shut down the city center.
The Ministry of Health submitted a draft bill in July that seeks to criminalize certain provisions of emergency medical care, levying severe penalties on any medical worker who assists the wounded without official authorization, said Ali Cerkezoglu, the general secretary of the Istanbul Medical Association.
"By this draft law, the government treats any ad hoc clinic or medical assistance as a crime to be penalized by imprisonment and heavy fines," Mr. Cerkezoglu said. "If it becomes law, medical service, even an emergency situation in the street, would be controlled by the government." The proposal is expected to be debated when Parliament reconvenes next month.
Health Ministry inspectors interrogated several members of the Istanbul Medical Association about the care they provided during the Gezi Park protests, Mr. Cerkezoglu said.
The Physicians for Human Rights report, based on reviews of physical and psychological data on 169 victims, concluded that almost all were exposed to tear gas and experienced multiple symptoms, including respiratory problems, skin rashes, hearing loss, high blood pressure and allergic reactions. The report also included interviews with 53 victims and witnesses that members of the group conducted in Istanbul and Ankara from June 25 to July 2.
Turkish security forces reportedly used 130,000 cartridges of tear gas in just 20 days following the outbreak of the protests, nearly draining the country's entire yearly supply. Some news reports said the army's stocks were used as replenishment.
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