Turkish police fire tear gas as protests spread

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Turkish police fired tear gas at protesters in Ankara on Sunday while thousands of people occupied Istanbul’s main Taksim Square on the third day of mass demonstrations against Turkey’s Islamist-rooted government, AFP reported.

Interior Minister Muammer Guler said more than 1,700 people had been arrested in the unrest that has spread to 67 cities nationwide, though most have since been released.

In Istanbul, a sea of protesters from across Turkey’s political spectrum flooded the iconic square a day after police pulled out of the area, waving flags and chanting “Government, Resign!” and “Istanbul is ours, Taksim is ours!”

From a nearby rooftop, a banner with the words: “Do not surrender” was unfurled.

Turkish police withdrew early Sunday from Istanbul’s Taksim Square, at the center of the demonstrations against Turkey’s Islamist-rooted government, while protesters began celebrating victory.

The protesters danced and sang in the square after the police pull-back, some even launching fireworks in celebration, according to AFP news agency.

What began as an outcry against a local development project has snowballed into a broader protest against what critics say is the government’s increasingly conservative and authoritarian agenda.

But “despite a festive atmosphere in Taksim (following the police withdrawal), clashes broke out again just a few kilometers away close to Beşiktaş, where the Istanbul Office of Prime Minister Erdogan is located,” according to Turkey’s Hurriyet Daily News.

“According to witnesses, the police forces, despite withdrawing, fired back a tear gas salvo at protesters in the İstiklal Avenue, Harbiye and Beşiktaş connections to Taksim Square,” the report added.

The protest left hundreds injured according to Amnesty International, which also said some protesters had been left blinded by the tear gas used by police.

“Government, resign!” protesters shouted as the police retreated.

“We are here Tayyip, where are you?” they chanted, taunting Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Since the first clashes on Friday, the unrest has spread to other cities across the country.

On Saturday, police in Ankara blocked a group of demonstrators from marching on parliament and the prime minister’s office.

Erdogan on Saturday vowed to press ahead with the controversial plan redevelop Istanbul’s Taksim Square despite the unrest.

Officials say the redevelopment includes building a shopping mall and the reconstruction of a former Ottoman army barracks. “We will rebuild the (Ottoman era military) barracks,” Erdogan said, though he added it was not clear whether the new site would then function as a shopping mall, as feared by the protesters.

But he added: “I call on the protesters to stop their demonstrations immediately.”

“It is true that there have been some mistakes, extremism in police response,” Erdogan added.

Police made 939 arrests, the interior minister said late Saturday, in more than 90 separate demonstrations around Turkey.

Meanwhile, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Sunday called for an end to nationwide anti-government protests, saying they would hurt the country’s reputation in the region and the world.

“The continuation of these protests ... will bring no benefits but will harm the reputation of our country which is admired both in the region and the world,” Davutoglu tweeted.

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