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patrick martin

Mustafa Mistili, a 61-year-old retired mechanical engineer, defends his spot in Taksim Square in Instanbul.Patrick Martin/The Globe and Mail

It was Wednesday, the morning after the night before when Turkish riot police had stormed Taksim Square and cleared the iconic central area of the protesters who had occupied it for 10 days.

All the protesters, but one, that is.

Mustafa Mistili, a 61-year-old retired mechanical engineer, stood on the spot he had defended since late afternoon Tuesday, holding aloft a Turkish flag, symbol of both the government forces and the varied groups of protesters.

As I watched him from a distance, I noted that he made no sound, shouted no slogan. Nor did he move from his spot either toward or away from the two dozen black-uniformed riot police who held their position around the square's central monument.

I approached him, and he stood so still that it seemed as if he were in some kind of wax museum. He looked neither toward me nor away. (Indeed, with his black beret and grizzled gray beard, I thought for a moment I was looking into a mirror.)

He spoke, in halting English, only when spoken to.

Mustafa said he was there, in the epicentre of the nationwide demonstrations "to silently shout" against a government that had "taken away people's freedom bit by bit."

The security forces had left him alone, long after the hundreds (some say thousands) of protesters had been cleared from the square, because they didn't perceive him as a threat, he said.

He brandished no fire bomb or fireworks such as used by the well-equipped activists the night before. He didn't even join in with the oft-repeated chant "Everywhere is Taksim; everywhere is resistance."

"They [the security forces] take one look at me and smile," Mustafa said.

As we chatted, a man standing nearby received a loud message over his walkie-talkie. The plain-clothed man ran toward the riot police and shouted orders. His men quickly put on their white helmets and grabbed their clear Plexiglas shields and weapons (mostly tear-gas launchers).

They lined up in formation, two-men deep, and faced toward the North, the direction to which their commander was pointing.

Clearly, it seemed, there had been a report of protesters making their way to the square, the way so many had in repeated waves the day before. But, after 10 minutes or so, the men were told they could stand down. Crisis averted.

Mustafa said he had little sympathy for the protesters who fought the security forces. "That's no way to protest," he said. "They're just looking for trouble."

He pointed toward the northeast, to the grassy Gezi Park with four dozen sycamore trees in which a group of protesters had been camped for two weeks. "These are true protesters," he said.

He pointed to his feet where there was a bottle of liquid with a nozzle spray and a plastic bag full of food and water. The spray was to ward off the stinging effects of the tear gas, he explained.

It was the protesters from Gezi Park who had brought him the provisions, he said.

"I'm doing this for my children," Mustafa said, "and my new grandchild."

"They deserve to have full freedom."

Mustafa acknowledged that the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan was better than most of the authoritarian regimes that had preceded him, "but that's not good enough."

"For a while, he was making lots of improvements," he said – bringing the military under civilian control and making peace with the Kurdish population that felt discriminated against.

"But after a while, he [Mr. Erdogan] began making all the decisions with only himself in mind."

It wasn't the governing party's Islamic-oriented policies that troubled him, said Mustafa, things such as prohibiting the sale of alcohol in retail shops after 10 pm. They're normal and understandable, he said.

Rather it was the way in which the Prime Minister made decisions, and silenced anyone from voicing their opposition to his policies.

Turkey's media have been intimidated by the government, with several journalists jailed or prosecuted for so-called threats to the government. As well, publishers of the largest most popular newspapers are often linked to large conglomerates and, as such, are vulnerable to a government that could take away business from one branch of the conglomerate or another.

"This is no way to run a democracy," said Mustafa.

He pointed to the monument near which he and the riot police had taken up their positions.

"That is a monument to Ataturk and how he led the people in a battle for freedom," he said.

"That's how it is meant to be."

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