The lady in red holds a white purse, her head is down, her eyes are closed, and her hair shoots up vertically from the force of a tear gas canister sprayed at her by a Turkish policeman standing just four feet away. The image has gone viral on social networks, a vivid symbol for the violent protests that began earlier this week in Istanbul.
"That photo encapsulates the essence of this protest," Esra, a math student at Besiktas told Reuters of the ongoing anti-government unrest that started in Istanbul last week and has spread across Turkey.
The ongoing protests began as a peaceful sit-in demonstration against the demolition of a park in central Istanbul but quickly grew into a larger movement, with protestors voicing their discontent over policies enacted by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Islamist Justice and Development Party, the New York Times reports. Riot police were brought in to contain the crowd with tear gas and pepper spray. The protestors responded by throwing bottles, blocking bulldozers and setting up barricades.
An estimated 3,300 people nationwide were detained during the first four days of protests and at least 1,300 people were injured, according to the Turkish Human Rights Association. A 22-year-old protestor died on Monday in a city near the Syrian border, though there are conflicting reports surrounding his death, according to Fox News.
Erdogan calls the protestors “extremists” that are "living arm in arm with terrorism." He rejects any comparison to the Arab Spring uprisings.
"We already have a spring in Turkey," Erdogan said, pointing to Turkey’s free elections. "But there are those who want to turn this spring into winter.”
The "lady in red" photo calls attention to Erdogan’s attempts to restrict civil liberties in the country – especially when it comes to women’s rights. In an attempt to “forge a Muslim majority” in the Middle Eastern country, Erdogan introduced legislation that limits a woman’s ability to get an abortion through the nation’s health insurance system and restricts women to having only three children, Reuters reports.
On Tuesday, Turkey’s deputy prime minister apologized for the police attacks on protestors in Istanbul.
"The excessive violence that was used in the first instance against those who were behaving with respect for the environment is wrong and unfair,” Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said at a news conference. “I apologize to those citizens."
"But I don't think we owe an apology to those who have caused damage in the streets and tried to prevent people's freedom," he added.