Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has issued a "last warning" to thousands of protesters occupying a central Istanbul park. He said he had lost his patience with demonstrations which began some two weeks ago.
In a speech at a meeting of his Justice and Development Party (AKP) on Thursday, Erdogan called on protesters to evacuate the park, which for two weeks has been the focus of anti-government demonstrations.
"Our patience is at an end. I am making my warning for the last time. I say to the mothers and fathers please take your children in hand and bring them out," Erdogan told ministers in Ankara. "We cannot wait any more because Gezi Park does not belong to occupying forces. It belongs to everybody."
The prime minister's warning comes a day after the Turkish government appeared to float the idea of referendum on the development of the park.
"We might put it to a referendum… In democracies only the will of the people counts," government spokesman Huseyin Celik was quoted as saying by news agency AFP.
Plans to redevelop Gezi Park into several buildings including a replica of an Ottoman-styled barracks, with a shopping mall initially on the agenda but since scrapped, prompted a peaceful sit-in in the park. On May 31, police sought to clear these protesters, sometimes using force, triggering more widespread demonstrations in Istanbul and around the country.
Activists accuse Erdogan and the AKP of being increasingly authoritarian and attempting to impose conservative Islamic values after more than a decade in power.
Matters came to a head on Tuesday when police took back Tasksim Square which, located next to Gezi Park. Authorities used tear gas and water cannons while some protesters threw projectiles including Molotov cocktails.
Violent crackdown condemned
According to the Turkish Medical Association, at least three people, including one policeman have been killed in the unrest. Around 5,000 others have been injured around the country as a whole since May 31, prompting fierce international condemnation of Turkey's handling of the crisis.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel's office and the German foreign minister on Wednesday appealed for restraint from the Turkish authorities.
Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle warned that the Turkish government was "sending the wrong message to the country and to Europe with its response to date to the protests."
Meanwhile Angela Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert said Berlin expected Erdogan "to de-escalate the situation in the spirit of European values."
ccp/msh (AFP, Reuters, dpa)