Anti-government protests in Turkey
Anti-government protests in TurkeyReuters

Riot police on Saturday used tear gas to clear a central Istanbul square and park that had formed the heart of a broad challenge to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Washington Post reported.

Within an hour of a warning from Erdogan that central Istanbul would be cleared by Sunday whether or not protesters left voluntarily, security forces using loudspeakers told people in Taksim and Gezi Park to leave, the report said.

Hundreds of black-clad riot police wearing gas masks started to rush the park, using tear gas and water cannons to chase protesters from the area. Remaining was a mess of soggy tents, banners and debris that sanitation workers quickly moved to clear.

Opposition leaders said Saturday that Erdogan had destroyed his chances for a dialogue, according to the Washington Post. Erdogan had invited a delegation of protesters into his Ankara home Friday and made concessions substantial enough that some organizers appeared to be considering standing down Saturday and leaving only a symbolic tent behind.

But as thousands of protesters on Saturday crowded the streets that feed into Taksim Square, the crossroads of Istanbul, they were defiant even after having lost the physical emblem of their movement.

The assault on protesters came hours after Erdogan gave a fiery speech in Ankara to tens of thousands of cheering supporters.

“I am putting it very clearly: Taksim Square is vacated or else. If not, this country’s security forces know how to vacate,” Erdogan said, according to the Washington Post.

Earlier in the day, those in Gezi Park appeared to be taking small steps toward compromise. Organized political groups and unions had decided Saturday to unite their previously fractured demands under the banner of a single umbrella group, called Taksim Solidarity, and to try to open the park to ordinary Istanbul residents, as well. They cleared away many of the barricades of debris that they had placed at park entrances to protect themselves from police. Some demonstrators said it was only a matter of time before the protests quieted.

Erdogan on Friday offered protesters the outline of a plan to quell the demonstrations. He announced that he would not push forward with the demolition of Gezi Park while a court reviewed the legality of the plans. And even if the court approved his efforts, Erdogan said he would put the choice to a referendum in Istanbul.

The status of that offer was not clear Saturday after police entered Gezi Park. But, according to the Washington Post, many protesters rejected it, saying that their demands had long ago moved beyond the survival of the park and were instead about basic freedoms under what they think is an increasingly authoritarian conservative Islamist rule.

The riots against Erdogan erupted after police cracked down heavily on May 31 on a campaign to save Gezi Park from redevelopment.

Erdogan, whose AKP party first took power in 2002, has accused the main opposition Republican People's Party of having a hand in the protests.

The prime minister has rejected claims that he is a “dictator” and has also accused social media of playing a major part in the protests against his government.