Police in Istanbul have for a second day fired tear gas at protestors near Taksim Square. Environmentalist rejection of plans to revamp the square has turned into wider protest against Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan.
Turkish police fired tear gas and water cannons for a second day on Saturday at protestors as they approached Istanbul's Taksim Square. Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan. who is serving a third term in office, insisted that police would stem protests.
He vowed to press ahead with the project to reconstruct an Ottoman-era military barracks but said no firm decision had been made to also erect a shopping mall. An Istanbul court had already ordered that the project be stopped.
The news agency Dogan said 81 demonstrators were detained. Some youths threw stones at police, according to the news agency Associated Press.
Authorities said that a dozen people were being treated in hospitals for injuries, but Amnesty International said more than 100 protesters were injured.
Police tactics criticized
Saturday's protests were inflamed by anger over tactics used by police when they broke up a peaceful sit-in to protect park trees in Istanbul's main square at dawn on Friday.
Friday's protest spread to a dozen other cities, including Ankara, where 5,000 people called for the resignation of Erdogan. The mainly secular protestors accused his government of becoming authoritarian.
Architects, leftist parties, academics, city planners and others have long opposed reconstruction of the square, saying the project lacks consultation with civic groups and would remove one of central Istanbul's few green spaces.
Erdogan has pushed ahead with a slew of multibillion-dollar projects he sees as embodying Turkey's emergence as a major power. They include a shipping canal, a giant mosque and a third Istanbul airport billed to be one of the world's biggest.
In a televised speech on Saturday, he said police might have used excessive force on Friday but he vowed to press ahead with the project while telling demonstrators to end their protest.
"Taksim cannot be a place where extremist groups run wild," said Erdogan who heads an Islamic-rooted, conservative government comprising his Justice and Development Party (AKP).
Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the chairman of the pro-secular main opposition Republic People's Party (CHP) demanded that Erdogan "pull back" police from the square and freeze the Gezi Park project.
An Istanbul philosophy student quoted by the news agency AFP said Friday's police crackdown in Istanbul was the "drop that made the vase overflow."
"People are sick and tired of everything that this government is doing to them," the student said.
A woman protestor accused the government of wanting to "impose an Islamist state" while "pretending to respect democracy."
In recent years, hundreds of military officers have been jailed for allegedly plotting a coup against Erdogan. Academics, journalists, politicians and others faced trial on similar charges.
Turkey's legendary leader Mustafa Kemal Ataturk founded the modern secular republic of Turkey after the fall of the Ottoman Empire 90 years ago.
ipj/slk (AP, Reuters, AFP)