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Istanbul locked down during May Day protests

From Turkey to Bangladesh, people took to the streets for May Day, a day honoring workers. NBCNews.com's Dara Brown reports.

ISTANBUL, Turkey – May Day protests in Istanbul turned ugly when Turkish riot police used water cannons and tear gas to disperse hundreds of protesters who defied a ban on demonstrations.

Ulas Yunus Tosun / EPA

Protesters clash with Turkish riot police during the May Day rally in Istanbul on Wednesday.

Thousands of police were deployed across the city Wednesday, closing off the roads around Istiklal Street – a major pedestrian street that leads to Taksim Square, Istanbul's version of New York's Times Square. 

Authorities had denied trade unions permission to march on Taksim, saying construction work there would make any gathering of protesters there too dangerous. 

At least 28 people were injured in clashes with police, including an AFP news agency photographer, and 72 arrests were made, according to the BBC.

On a typical day hundreds of thousands of people walk down Istiklal Street – the most popular pedestrian street in the city, lined with 19th century buildings and full of outdoor restaurants, bars and boutiques. 

Ozan Kose / AFP - Getty Images

Masked police officers take cover behind shields during clashes at a May Day demonstration in Istanbul.

But on Wednesday afternoon, riot police blocked the entrances to Istiklal and the roads around it.  Public transportation was disrupted across the city.  Tourists visiting the usually bustling commercial area had confused looks on their faces as they dragged heavy suitcases down side streets looking for the all too few available taxis.

Feahat Sevgi, a 21-year-old worker at a usually bustling coffee shop on Istiklal bemoaned the heavy police presence. “It was a very bad business day,” Sevgi said. “Usually we have hundreds of people coming here to get coffee, but today it was just a few. It’s not good for us.”

Police Officer Selcuk Oney, who was on the street near Taksim, defended the forces heavy presence across the city saying, “What we did today was to protect ordinary people.” 

Bulent Kilic / AFP - Getty Images

Protesters chant slogans as they stand at the windows of the Confederation of Revolutionary Trade Unions of Turkey building in Istanbul on Wednesday.

May Day protests had been banned in Turkey for decades, until they were reinstated in 2010. The day had a troubled history – 37 people were killed during May Day protests in Taksim Square in 1977 when unknown assailants fired shots in the air, sparking panic. But in 2010 the government declared the day an official holiday and agreed to allow protests in the square under tight security.  

NBC News Petra Cahill and Reuters contributed to this report.