In a thunderous speech to hundreds of thousands of supporters in western Istanbul, Erdogan also railed against foreign media coverage of the unrest amid criticism over his government's handling of the protests that left his international image battered, and exposed deep rifts within Turkish society.
- Turkish riot police clash with protesters in Taksim Square
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About 10 kilometers (six miles) away in central Istanbul, riot police fired tear gas and used water cannons on thousands of protesters attempting to regroup and demonstrate again in the city's main Taksim Square. Clashes broke out in nearby neighborhoods with stone-throwing youths.
Pro-Erdogan rally (Photo: EPA)
Protesters are angry over the eviction of overwhelmingly peaceful activists at Gezi Park, next to Taksim Square, who oppose government plans to rip down its trees and erect a replica Ottoman-era barracks. But the protests quickly spiraled into a widespread denunciation of what many say is Erdogan's increasingly authoritarian way of governing, charges he vehemently denies.
"They say 'you are too tough', they say 'dictator'. What kind of a dictator is this who met the Gezi Park occupiers and honest environmentalists? Is there such dictator?," Erdogan said to roars of approval from the crowd.
Tens of thousands come out to support Erdogan (Photo: EPA)
"The attitude across Turkey with the pretext of Taksim's Gezi Park is not sincere. It is nothing more than the minority's attempt to dominate the majority ... We could not have allowed this and we will not allow it," he said.
Speaking to his supporters, Erdogan recalled telling Interior Ministry officials: "You are going to clear Gezi Park. We have reached an end. We cannot stand it anymore.' And as you know, yesterday the operation was carried out, and it was cleared."
Ankara, Saturday. (Photo: MCT)
"I did my duty as prime minister," he said, "Otherwise there would be no point in my being in office."
Police in uniform and plain clothes sealed off Taksim Square and Gezi Park, which riot police cleared of thousands of peaceful protesters in a swift but muscular operation Saturday evening. Crews worked through the night to remove all traces of a sit-in that started more than two weeks ago and became the focus of the strongest challenge to Prime Minister Erdogan in his 10 years in office.
Police clear out protesters (Photo: AP)
Istanbul's governor, Huseyin Avni Mutlu, said the square was off-limits to the public for the time being, and nobody would be allowed to gather. A spokesman for the protesters vowed the group would retake Gezi Park.
"We will win Taksim Square again and we will win Taksim Gezi Park again," Alican Elagoz said.
Undercover police arrest man attempting to return to park (Photo: Reuters)
The umbrella protest group behind the Gezi Park campaign, Taksim Solidarity, called for demonstrators to gather peacefully again in the square, but Mutlu, the Istanbul governor, made clear they would not be allowed to do so.
"Any call for (people to gather in) Taksim will not contribute to peace and security," he told reporters, as riot police fired teargas in several locations to disperse groups of demonstrators trying to reach the square.
"After the current environment becomes stable, they can continue exercising their democratic rights. Under current circumstances we will not allow any gathering."
Protesters in Taksim (Photo: AP)
Thousands of protesters trying to reach the area were stuck on side streets and in nearby neighborhoods in a blanket of tear gas. Stumbling to avoid the gas, they piled into nearby cafes and restaurants, where waiters clutched napkins to their faces.
Stone-throwing youths and riot police clashed in Istanbul's Sisli neighborhood next to the Taksim area. Television footage showed police deploying two water cannon trucks against the youths, standing near a flaming barricade blocking the street. Rocks littered the roadway.
The protests in Istanbul began as an environmental sit-in to prevent a development project at Gezi Park, but anger over a violent crackdown there on May 31 quickly spread to dozens of cities and spiraled into a broader expression of discontent.
The protests have left at least five people dead, including a police officer, according to a Turkish rights group, and more than 5,000 injured.
AP, Reuters contributed to this report
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