Discuss as:

Turks angry with demolition of beloved park faceoff with riot police

Bulent Kilic / AFP - Getty Images

Demonstrators help one another as Turkish riot policemen use tear gas to disperse clashes on May 31, 2013 during a protest against the demolition of Taksim Gezi Park, in Taksim Square in Istanbul. Police reportedly used tear gas to disperse a group, who were standing guard in Gezi Parki to prevent the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality from demolishing the last remaining green public space in the center of Istanbul as a part of a major Taksim renewal project. At least a dozen people were injured.

Ozan Kose / AFP - Getty Images

Protestors hold a giant Turkish flag in front of a water cannon truck on May 31, 2013 during a protest against the demolition of Taksim Gezi Park, in Taksim Square in Istanbul.

Sedat Suna / EPA

Turkish riot police use water cannons to disperse demonstrators during a protest against the planned construction of a new shopping mall at Taksim Square in Istanbul, Turkey, on May 31, 2013. Protesting under the slogan 'OccupyGezi,' activists have been staging a demonstration since May 28 to save Taksim Square.

ISTANBUL/ANKARA - Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan made a defiant call for an end to the fiercest anti-government demonstrations in years on Saturday, as thousands of protesters clashed with riot police in Istanbul and Ankara for a second day. 

The unrest was triggered by government plans for a replica Ottoman-era barracks housing shops or apartments in Istanbul's Taksim Square, long a venue for political protest, but has widened into a broader show of defiance against Erdogan and his Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP). 

Police fired teargas and water cannon down a major shopping street as crowds of protesters chanting "shoulder to shoulder against fascism" and "government resign" marched towards Taksim, where hundreds were injured in clashes on Friday. 

A police helicopter buzzed overhead as groups of mostly young men and women, bandanas or surgical masks tied around their mouths, used Facebook and Twitter on mobile phones to try to organize and regroup in side streets. 

"If this is about holding meetings, if this is a social movement, where they gather 20, I will get up and gather 200,000 people. Where they gather 100,000, I will bring together one million from my party," Erdogan said in a televised speech. 

"Every four years we hold elections and this nation makes its choice ... Those who have a problem with government's policies can express their opinions within the framework of law and democracy," he said. 

Police later pulled back from Gezi Park in Taksim, where the demonstration started peacefully on Monday with people pitching tents in protest at trees being torn up for the redevelopment. 

Waiters scurried out of luxury hotels lining the square, on what should be a busy weekend for tourists in one of the world's most visited cities, ferrying lemons to protesters, who squirted the juice in their eyes to mitigate the effects of tear gas. 

"People from different backgrounds are coming together. This has become a protest against the government, against Erdogan taking decisions like a king," said Oral Goktas, a 31-year old architect among a peaceful crowd walking towards Taksim. 

Bulent Kilic / AFP - Getty Images

Turkish riot policemen use tear gas to disperse clashes on May 31, 2013 during a protest against the demolition of Taksim Gezi Park, in Taksim Square in Istanbul.

AFP - Getty Images

Demonstrators flee from a water cannon during clashes with riot police on May 31, 2013 during a protest against the demolition of Taksim Gezi Park, in Taksim Square in Istanbul.

Ozan Kose / AFP - Getty Images

A wounded woman lays on Taksim Square after clashes with riot police on May 31, 2013 during a protest against the demolition of Taksim Gezi Park, in Taksim Square in Istanbul. Protesters tried to prevent the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality from demolishing the last remaining green public space in the center of Istanbul as a part of a major Taksim renewal project.

Stone-throwing protesters also clashed with police in the Kizilay district of central Ankara as a helicopter fired tear gas into the crowds. Riot police with electric shock batons chased demonstrators into side streets and shops. 

Protests also broke out in the Aegean coastal city of Izmir late on Friday. 

Erdogan said the redevelopment of Gezi Park was being used as an excuse for the unrest and warned the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), which had been given permission to hold a rally in Istanbul, against stoking tensions. 

But the protests included a broad spectrum of people opposed to Erdogan and were not organized by any political party. 

CHP officials called on its members not to take party flags with them to the protests, apparently concerned they would be held responsible for the violence, and party leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu accused Erdogan of behaving like a dictator. 

AP

A man wearing a make-shift gas-mask hours before riot police use tear gas and pressurized water to quash a peaceful demonstration by hundreds of people staging a sit-in protest to try and prevent the demolition of trees at an Istanbul park, Turkey, on May 30.

"Tens of thousands are saying no, they are opposing the dictator ... The fact that you are the ruling party doesn't mean you can do whatever you want," he said. 

Erdogan has overseen a transformation in Turkey during his decade in power, turning its once crisis-prone economy into the fastest-growing in Europe. 

He remains by far the country's most popular politician, but critics point to what they see as his authoritarianism and the religiously conservative government's meddling in private life in the secular republic, accusing him of behaving like a modern-day sultan. 

Tighter restrictions on alcohol sales and warnings against public displays of affection in recent weeks have also led to protests. Concern that government policy is allowing Turkey to be dragged into the conflict in neighboring Syria by the West has also sparked peaceful demonstrations. 

Tolga Bozoglu / EPA

Turkish riot police use tear gas to disperse demonstrators during a protest against the planned construction of a new shopping mall at Taksim Square in Istanbul, Turkey, on May 31, 2013. Protesting under the slogan 'OccupyGezi', activists have been staging a demonstration since 28 May to save Taksim Square.

Tolga Bozoglu / EPA

Turkish riot police use water cannons to disperse demonstrators during a protest against the planned construction of a new shopping mall at Taksim Square in Istanbul, Turkey, on May 31, 2013. Protesting under the slogan 'OccupyGezi', activists have been staging a demonstration since May 28 to save Taksim Square.

AP

People during hold a sit-in protest to try and prevent the demolition of trees at an Istanbul park, Turkey, on May 30. Police moved in at dawn Friday to disperse the crowd on the fourth day of the protest against a contentious government plan to revamp Istanbul's main square, Taksim, injuring a number of protesters. The protesters are demanding that the square's park, Gezi, is protected.

AFP - Getty Images

Protests that started as an outcry against a local development project in Taksim Square have snowballed into widespread anger against what critics say is the government's increasingly conservative and authoritarian agenda.