Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday called on demonstrators to end anti-government protests now into a second day, but he remained defiant, insisting police would break down protests at a main Istanbul square and indicating that the government would press ahead with the redevelopment plans that sparked the demonstrations.
In a televised speech, Mr Erdogan said police may have used tear gas excessively while confronting protesters and said this would be investigated.
Nevertheless, police let off more tear gas and pressurised water against protesters trying to reach a main square in Istanbul or the Parliament building in the capital, Ankara.
The protests grew out of anger at heavy-handed police tactics on Friday to break up a peaceful sit-in by people trying to protect a park in Istanbul’s main Taksim square from government plans to revamp the area. The park demonstration turned into a wider protest against Mr Erdogan, who is seen as becoming increasingly authoritarian, and spread to other Turkish cities despite the court decision to temporarily halt the demolition of the park. A human rights group said hundreds of people were injured in scuffles with police that lasted through the night.
“Police were present in Taksim yesterday,” Mr Erdogan said. “They will be present today and they will be present tomorrow too. Taksim cannot be a place where extremist groups run wild.”
Erdogan, who is serving a third term in office after winning landslide elections, denounced the protests as illegitimate and suggested he could easily summon 1 million people for a pro-government rally.
“All attempts apart from the ballot box are not democratic,” Mr Erdogan said.
On Saturday, police clashed with several groups of youths trying to reach Taksim, the city’s main hub and shopping centre. Some threw stones at police.
A few thousand people marched along the Bosporus Bridge from the Asian shore of the city, toward Taksim, on the European side, but were met with pressurised water and tear gas that filled the air in a thick cloud of smoke.
Police detained a group of protesters who ran into a hotel to shelter from the gas, the private Dogan news agency reported.
The leader of Turkey’s pro-secular, main opposition party called on Mr Erdogan to immediately withdraw police from Taksim.
“Show us that you are the prime minister, pull back your police,” Kemal Kilicdaroglu said.