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700th gathering of Saturday Mothers marred by police violence, detentions

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The Saturday Mothers, who gather every Saturday to bring attention to the cases of people who disappeared while in custody in the 1990s, would have had their 700th meeting in İstanbul today but their gathering was prevented by police who used force against the demonstrators.

The Saturday Mothers, who first gathered on May. 27, 1995 in Galatasaray Square on İstiklal Street, have been the longest-running protest Turkey has ever witnessed. They protest questions unanswered by the authorities about the disappearance or unsolved murder of their loved ones after being taken by security forces, and the lack of justice in court.

However, the 700th gathering of the group was banned by Turkey’s Interior Ministry. The İstanbul police used plastic bullets and tear gas to disperse the demonstrators and detained as many as 50 people including the relatives of missing persons and Human Rights Association (İHD) members. Some of the demonstrators were handcuffed from behind.

Among those detained was veteran Saturday Mothers protest leader Emine Ocak, who reports said is 82.

Besna Tosun, the daughter of Fehmi Tosun, who went missing while in police custody, told Turkish media outlets that the relatives of the missing persons have been coming to Galatasaray Square for 23 years.

“I am looking for my father in this square. This square is ours,” she said.

Pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Co-chairperson Pervin Buldan, who was at the venue, criticized the banning of the demonstration and the use of force by the police.

“A country has been created which is afraid of the silent screams of the mothers. There cannot be another example of evil. We have been looking for the bones of our children for 700 weeks. We will continue our struggle until we find the bones of our children,” Buldan said.

Unsolved murders and disappearances were frequent occurrences in the late 1980s when tension between two terrorist groups, Hizbullah and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), grew violent.

The disappearances are also known as the “white Taurus” (Beyaz Toros) incidents since gendarmerie intelligence and the JITEM counterterrorism unit put people into white Renault Toros cars and never brought them back. Some remains of people who were forced into those cars were found in forests, garbage cans and rural areas, and some people were never found.

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