Riot police called to Istanbul airport as tourists stranded by snow stage protest

Heavy snowfall continued to cause disruption in Turkey's largest city on Tuesday

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Tourists stranded by icy weather at Istanbul Airport on Tuesday staged a protest demanding hotel accommodation, leading to police being called to the terminal.

Scores of passengers, many of whom had to sleep on floors and benches the previous night, chanted “we need hotels” as they milled around the concourse.

“The riot police were called to prevent the protests at Istanbul Airport becoming excessive,” said Ali Kidik, a member of the Istanbul municipal assembly who filmed the scene. Turkish media carried pictures of about 60 police officers standing next to a large group of passengers.

“They dispatched police to tourists who wanted a hotel. Are you going to gas [them] and show us up even more to the world?” tweeted opposition MP Tuncay Ozkan.

Local passengers also criticised operations at the airport, which was fully opened less than three years ago amid concerns that its site left it vulnerable to turbulent weather from the Black Sea.

“You know, this airport is world-class,” one Turkish traveller told the Cumhuriyet newspaper. “It snowed and there are no flights for two days.”

Others flying from Istanbul decided to give up and return home when bus services to the city resumed. “We have been at the airport since two o’clock yesterday afternoon,” said Fiden Bilek, who was travelling to the southern city of Diyarbakir.

“Everything was gradually cancelled but we were told too late. We changed our ticket and the flight was cancelled again. There was no place to sleep or sit. We spent the night in the terminal with zero sleep. Now we are waiting for the bus. After that, we’ll take a taxi if we can find one.”

Some flights resumed on Tuesday, with the first flight since Monday afternoon, landing from Venezuela at 12.30pm but Turkish Airlines said it would not operate planes from the airport until at least midnight.

Another form of air transport was enlisted when a heart attack victim had to be taken to hospital. A military helicopter ferried the patient across the city.

Istanbul blanketed with snow

Stranded passengers wait at Istanbul airport. AFP

Across the city of 16 million, others took the opportunity to enjoy the weather.

In Beyoglu, the European district that includes tourism spots such as Taksim Square and Istiklal Avenue, one man was pictured riding a white horse through the snow and slush, to the delight and cheers of pedestrians.

Further west, PE teacher Fatih Isik dug out his skis and posted footage of himself off-piste on the streets of Avcilar. “Thank you to the authorities who turned Istanbul into Uludag,” he wrote, referring to the Turkish ski resort.

As many roads remained hazardous to traffic, there were instances of community spirit across Istanbul.

When a local bus became stuck on an icy road in Uskudar, one motorist attaching a tow rope and other passers-by, perhaps a little optimistically, lent a hand by getting behind the flailing bus to give it a shove.

Meanwhile, the meteorology authority announced heavy snow was expected late Tuesday around Kocaeli and Yalova to the south of Istanbul.

The effects of Monday’s severe storm remained in evidence, with cars abandoned on highways as snow of up to a metre deep was reported in remote parts of Istanbul province.

Governor Ali Yerlikaya announced that major roads from the north and south were reopened, although bus services remained suspended until Wednesday. Public ferries across the Bosphorus were also cancelled.

Hundreds of cars and trucks remained stranded on a main road in Istanbul on Tuesday. AP

He said more than 5,000 people stranded on the roads had been rescued and nearly 3,200 placed in hotels and other accommodation. More than 18,000 personnel and 5,000 vehicles were involved in tackling some of the problems caused by the weather, such as repairing energy infrastructure and co-ordinating traffic.

Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality announced that about 48,000 travellers stranded on major roads had been supplied with water, tea and soup while more than 55,000 tonnes of salt had been scattered to help the city get moving again.

Municipal veterinary teams distributed two tonnes of food for street cats and dogs across the city.

Nurseries and daycare centres were shut and many public-sector employees were given administrative leave until Thursday. Istanbul universities were suspended until Monday and most postponed exams due to be held this week.

In southern Turkey, snow covered the Mediterranean beaches of Antalya for the first time in 29 years.

Updated: January 26, 2022, 2:41 PM