Riot police fired water cannons and tear gas as they drove protesters out of Istanbul's Taksim Square and neighboring Gezi Park on Saturday, an intervention that came shortly after the prime minister warned that security forces "know how to clear" the area.
Within a half-hour, the sweep by white-helmeted riot police had emptied the park, leaving a series of colorful, abandoned tents behind. Bulldozers moved in afterward, scooping up debris as crews of workmen in hard hats and fluorescent yellow vests tore down the tents.
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Protesters put up little physical resistance, even as plain-clothes police shoved many of them to drive them from the park.
Lines of police backed by armored vehicles sealed off Taksim Square in the centre of the city as officers stormed the adjoining Gezi Park, where protesters had been camped in a ramshackle settlement of tents for more than two weeks.
Police disperse protesters (Photo: EPA)
Residents in surrounding neighborhoods took to their balconies or leant out of windows banging pots and pans, while car drivers sounded their horns in support of the protesters.
Several people were brought out of the park on stretchers as ambulances waited to receive them.
Erdogan had warned hours earlier that security forces would clear the square if the protesters did not withdraw before a ruling party rally in Istanbul on Sunday.
Man injured in protest evacuated (Photo: EPA)
"We have our Istanbul rally tomorrow. I say it clearly: Taksim Square must be evacuated, otherwise this country's security forces know how to evacuate it," he told tens of thousands of flag-waving supporters at a rally in Ankara.
A police crackdown on peaceful campaigners in Gezi Park two weeks ago provoked an unprecedented wave of protest against Erdogan, drawing in secularists, nationalists, professionals, trade unionists and students who took to the streets in protest at what they see as his autocratic style.
Tear gas used by riot police (Photo: EPA)
The unrest, in which police fired teargas and water cannon at stone-throwing protesters night after night in cities including Istanbul and Ankara, left four people dead and about 5,000 injured, according to the Turkish Medical Association.
The protesters, who oppose government plans to build a replica Ottoman-era barracks on Gezi Park, had defied repeated calls to leave.
Reuters, AP contributed to this report.
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