Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he carried out his “duty” by deploying riot police to evict thousands of activists behind an 18-day sit-in at an Istanbul park that had become a centre of protests against his 10 years in office.
In a thunderous speech to hundreds of thousands of supporters in western Istanbul yesterday, Mr Erdogan also railed against foreign media coverage and social media following a storm of criticism over his government’s hardline stance.
Meanwhile, about six miles away in the centre of the city, riot police were firing tear gas and water cannon against protesters and stone-throwing youths.
Protesters are angry over the eviction of overwhelmingly peaceful activists at Gezi Park who oppose government plans to rip down its trees and erect a replica Ottoman-era barracks.
It triggered more widespread protests against what is perceived as the increasingly authoritarian rule of Mr Erdogan who has been accused of trying to impose Islamic rule in a country founded as a modern secular state. For more than two weeks, protesters had flouted Mr Erdogan’s warnings to vacate the area around the city’s Taksim Square.
As dusk fell on Saturday, hundreds of white-helmeted riot police swept through Taksim Square and Gezi Park, firing canisters of tear gas as they stormed through the tents.
Thousands of protesters, choking on the fumes and stumbling among the tents, put up little physical resistance, even as plain-clothes police manhandled them from the park.
The protests began as an environmental sit-in to prevent a development project at Gezi Park, but have quickly spread to dozens of cities and spiraled into a broader expression of discontent.
Demonstrations also erupted in other cities. In Ankara, at least 3,000 people swarmed into the streets. In Izmir, thousands of converged at a seafront square.
Tayfun Kahraman, a member of an umbrella group of protest movements, said an untold number of people in the park had been injured.