Thousands join Turkey protests defying PM

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Turkey
Istanbul, June 8: Thousands of angry Turks poured into the streets today to join mass anti-government protests, defying Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's call to end the worst civil unrest of his decade-long rule.

Protesters blew whistles and waved flags in Istanbul's Taksim Square, the epicentre of the protests which erupted on May 31, while others brought blankets and food to settle in for the weekend at the adjoining Gezi Park, now a festival-like camp site.

"A week ago, I could never imagine myself sleeping out on the streets of Istanbul," said 22-year-old Aleyna, wrapped up under a blanket with a stray kitten, pointing to her dirty clothes.

"Now I don't know how I can ever go back."

Fresh rallies were also held in the capital Ankara, with over a thousand people gathering peacefully in the central Kizilay Square, singing revolutionary songs and dancing.

Erdogan, meanwhile, was meeting in Istanbul with top officials of his Justice and Development Party (AKP) to discuss the crisis, and a deputy prime minister was due to make a speech later today.

Turkey's assertive leader yesterday called for an immediate end to the protests, saying his Islamic-rooted government was open to "democratic demands" but insisting that the protests were "bordering on vandalism".

The political turmoil erupted after police cracked down heavily on a small campaign to save Gezi Park from demolition, spiralling into nationwide protests against Erdogan and the AKP, seen as increasingly authoritarian.

Police have used tear gas and water cannon to disperse demonstrators in clashes that have left three dead and thousands injured, tarnishing Turkey's image as a model of Islamic democracy.

In a bid to calm tensions, Istanbul's mayor Kadir Topbas today said the park would not be turned into a shopping mall, as some feared.

But the reconstruction of Ottoman-era military barracks at the site would go ahead, he said, echoing earlier comments by Erdogan.

"The plan for the barracks was part of our election promises," the mayor told reporters.

AFP

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