Turkish riot police have moved into Istanbul’s Taksim Square to drive out anti-government protesters. This came a few hours after the prime minister issued an ultimatum for them to leave or be forcibly removed.
Police on Saturday used tear gas and water canon against the protesters, some of whom had been camped out in the square and neighboring Gezi Park, the center of the biggest anti-government protests Turkey has seen in decades.
Municipal workers then swept through the area to dismantle tents that had been used by some protesters. Witnesses said several people appeared to have been injured.
The move didn't come as a complete surprise, given previous tactics practiced by authorities since the demonstrations began more than a fortnight ago and a warning issued by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan earlier in the day.
"I say this very clearly: either Taksim Square is cleared, or if it isn't cleared then the security forces of this country will know how to clear it," Erdogan told supporters of his AK Party in the capital, Ankara.
Earlier in the day, an umbrella group representing the protesters known as Taksim Solidarity had announced that they would not leave the square voluntarily despite a conciliatory signal from the prime minister on Friday, in which he held his first talks with representatives of the protesters. The prime minister had also announced he would suspend plans to redevelop Gezi Park, the controversial project, which sparked the original demonstration that quickly developed into general protests against his government.
"We will continue our resistance in the face of any injustice and unfairness taking place in our country," Taksim Solidarity announced in a written statement after several hours of discussions with campers in Gezi Park. The group also pledged to "continue to keep watch over our park."
More than 5,000 protesters have been injured during the two weeks of unrest and at least four people have died.
Turkey has faced criticism from many of its allies over the tactics used by the police in Istanbul.
"The Turkish government is sending the wrong message to the country and to Europe with its response to date to the protests," German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said earlier in the week. He also described images of police cracking down on protesters as "disturbing."
pfd/jlw (AFP, AP, Reuters, dpa)