Protests in Turkey against the government of Prime Minister Erdogan have entered their fourth day, with rioters setting fire to offices of Erdogan's AK Party. Erdogan has called for calm.
Television images from Turkish media showed firefighters dispatched in the early hours on Monday morning local time battling a fire started by protesters at offices of the AK Party (Justice and Development Party) in the western port city of Izmir.
The number of protesters has died down to some extent, especially in Istanbul, where thousands had taken to the city's Taksim square over the weekend and had clashed with police.
But the heart of the demonstrations has now shifted, with many protesters moving to target offices belonging to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul and Ankara.
Interior Minister Muammer Guler said more than 1,700 people have been arrested nationwide since Tuesday, but most have been released. In Istanbul alone, at least 1,000 people have been injured.
Turkish response 'fueling discontent'
Rights groups such as Amnesty International have criticized the Turkish government's crackdown on the protesters as too harsh. The organization was particularly critical of the use of tear gas by police, which Amnesty describes as excessive.
In a statement on its website, Amnesty said it had received reports of a number of occasions where "police were seen deliberately targeting individual protesters with tear gas canisters. A number of protesters are thought to have lost their sight as a result of the use of tear gas at close range."
Human Rights Watch's senior Turkey researcher, Emma Sinclair-Webb, said in a statement on that organization's website that "the government's failure to respect the right to protest and to speak out is fueling discontent among people in Turkey."
Erdogan appeals for calm
At the airport in Istanbul on Monday, the prime minister called on his people to "be calm, relax," and that "all this will be overcome," as he was about to leave for a trip tp Morocco.
In a televised speech on Sunday, Erdogan responded to the widespread discontent across Turkey by shifting blame for the unrest to his political opponents.
"We think that the main opposition party which is making resistance calls on every street is provoking these protests," Erdogan said, adding that they had manipulated a peaceful protest because they were "unable to beat [the government] at the ballot box."
An environmental demonstration in Istanbul against government plans that would diminish the city's green space quickly morphed into anti-government rallies on Friday and Saturday.
Erdogan, who has served as prime minister since 2003, rejected the depiction of his government as authoritarian.
"If they call someone who has served the people a 'dictator,' I have nothing to say," Erdogan said. "My only concern has been to serve my country."
Critics have accused the prime minister's AK Party of moving away from Turkey's secularist tradition toward more authoritarian policies rooted in Islam.
mz/ng (Reuters, AFP, AP,dpa)