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Turkey: Police Use Tear Gas as Riots Continue

Riot police fire tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters in Istanbul; Erdogan says there will be "no more tolerance" for demonstrations.
By Elad Benari
First Publish: 6/12/2013, 12:12 AM

Anti-government protests in Turkey
Anti-government protests in Turkey
Reuters

Riot police fired tear gas and rubber bullets to clear protesters from an Istanbul square on Tuesday as Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned he would show "no more tolerance" for the unrelenting mass demonstrations against his government.

The AFP news agency reported that hundreds of police stormed the city's Taksim Square, the epicenter of nearly two weeks of unrest, in the early morning and brought bulldozers to clear the makeshift barriers erected by demonstrators after police pulled out of the area on June 1.

The police action surprised protesters, many of whom were dozing in nearby Gezi Park, because it came just hours after Erdogan agreed to hold talks with protest leaders on Wednesday, his first major concession since the trouble began.

The premier, however, made no mention of the olive branch Tuesday and resumed his tough stance against the demonstrators who have thrown up the biggest challenge yet to his decade-long rule.

"This episode is now over. We won't show any more tolerance," the premier told cheering lawmakers of his Justice and Development Party (AKP) in a speech broadcast live on television, according to AFP.

Smoke filled Taksim Square as police doused protesters with tear gas and jets of waters. Some demonstrators, in helmets and gas masks, responded with molotov cocktails, fireworks and stones, reported AFP.

The nationwide unrest first erupted after police cracked down heavily on May 31 on a campaign to save Gezi Park from redevelopment.

The trouble spiraled into mass displays of anger against Erdogan, who is seen as increasingly authoritarian, tarnishing Turkey's image as a model of Islamic democracy.

Erdogan said on Tuesday that four people, including a policeman, had died. Nearly 5,000 people have been injured.

In a rousing speech to lawmakers, Erdogan urged "sincere" protesters in Gezi Park to pull back, warning that their environmental campaign was being hijacked by "an illegal uprising against the rule of democracy."

By late afternoon, clashes were still raging in the square between police and protesters who were chanting "Resistance!", while nearby Gezi Park remained peaceful.

Istanbul governor Huseyin Avni Mutlu sought to justify the police intervention, saying the protesters' takeover of Taksim Square "tarnished the country's image before the eyes of the world" and assured demonstrators police would not storm Gezi Park.

Tens of thousands across the country over the weekend ignored Erdogan's call to end their demonstrations after he warned his patience was running out, prompting clashes in several cities including the capital Ankara.

Opponents accuse Erdogan of repressing critics -- including journalists, minority Kurds and the military -- and of pushing conservative Islamic values on the mainly Muslim but staunchly secular nation.

But the 59-year-old, in power since 2002, remains the country's most popular politician. His AKP has won three elections in a row and took nearly half the vote in the 2011 polls, having presided over strong economic growth.

At least 18 people were injured in Tuesday's violence, medical officials told AFP, reporting numerous broken bones and several head injuries.