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Starbucks becomes refuge for Turkey protesters

A UW grad in Turkey says Starbucks has become an unlikely refuge for protesters. (Image courtesy Christan Leonard)

Usually big corporate entities are the target of protests, but in Turkey, one Seattle-based company has become an unlikely refuge for anti-government demonstrators who’ve been occupying Taksim Square.

Christan Leonard is a University of Washington graduate, journalist and photographer who is now working out of Istanbul and covering the protests in Turkey.

She says Starbucks has become an unlikely ally of the demonstrators. Leonard says Starbucks has welcomed demonstrators with “coffee to anyone who wanted it. Free use of their restrooms which normally you have to pay for in Turkey, and they even provided first aid to protesters. So they were able to help protesters who came in with minor injuries.”

The protests, which started more than two weeks ago, are targeted at corporate developers’ plans to turn Istanbul’s last remaining park into a few blocks of concrete and steel.

Even after the clashes became violent and businesses in the area were forced to close, Starbucks remained a haven for the demonstrators.

“Starbucks in Taksim Square, which is situated right in the center of the action, closed and according to volunteers at the stand Starbucks gave them permission to be there, though a spokesperson denies they gave anyone express permission, but they may just not want to admit this,” says Leonard.

Leonard says she hasn’t been able to get any response from Starbucks corporate offices in Turkey or in Seattle about why they’re responding the way they are, but she suspects it’s a decision that was made by local store managers.

“I think more it was a humanitarian spirit. These people came in, some of these people had been covered in tear gas or hit with water cannons.”

They’re helping them, even though Turkish police have warned local businesses not to get involved.

“I think it was just they saw people who needed help, so they helped them,” says Leonard. “I don’t think it was in any way politically motivated.”

Leonard says some of the other businesses in the square have not been welcoming to the protestors and they’ve been the target of vandalism and looting.

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