Protesters run away from tear gas during a protest against Turkish government's newly proposed restrictions on the use of internet, on Istiklal avenue in Istanbul, on February 8, 2014. Turkish riot police with tear gas and water cannon dispersed more than 2,000 people demonstrating against these new Internet curbs that have sparked alarm at home and abroad. AFP PHOTO/OZAN KOSE Image Credit: AFP

Brussels: Demonstrations against a restrictive new Internet law grew violent Saturday night, as hundreds of protesters clashed with police near Istanbul’s main Taksim Square.

Anti-government demonstrators, who erected barricades near the square, battled police with rocks and fireworks. Police fought back with water cannons, tear gas and rubber bullets.

Protesters set up barricades near the square, on a street between two hospitals. There were reports of numerous ambulances in the area, as well as many arrests. One press photographer was reported to be injured, and many money machines vandalised. Opposition groups had called for a rally in Taksim Square to denounce the Internet law, but Police closed off the square.

Thousands of demonstrators chanted for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to step down. On Thursday night the Turkish parliament approved amendments to its Internet regulations that allow the government to block websites without a court order and mandate Internet Service Providers to store data for up to two years. The law must still by signed by President Abdullah Gul.

The European Union criticised Turkey for introducing tighter Internet controls, urging a revision to comply with standards in the bloc that Ankara hopes to join. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said that “the amendments to Turkey’s already restrictive Internet law would compound a dismal record on press freedom in the country, which is the leading jailer of journalists worldwide.” The European Union said Thursday that the new law raised ‘serious concerns’.

“This law is raising serious concerns here. The law in its current form introduces several restrictions on freedom of expression,” Commission spokesman Peter Stano said.

“The Turkish public deserves more information and more transparency, not more restrictions.” Since Turkey is a candidate for EU membership, the law “needs to be revised in line with European standards,” Stano told a press briefing.

The European Union has made clear several times that this and other recent legal changes must meet European norms, said Stano, spokesman for EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele who leads the talks on Turkey’s EU membership.

“These issues are regularly raised and discussed when the Commissioner meets his Turkish counterpart ... we are raising these issues constantly,” he said. Brussels is “monitoring very closely” how Turkey meets the membership criteria, he added.