Istanbul, June 12: Turkish riot police have cleared the Taksim Square that has been the focus of nearly two weeks of protests against Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan.
By dawn Istanbul's central square, strewn with wreckage from last night's bulldozed barricades, was largely deserted today. Taxis crossed it for the first time since the troubles started. Several hundred remained in an endampment of tents in Gezi Park abutting the square.
Erdogan, who has repeatedly dismissed the demonstrators as "riff-raff", was expected to meet a grouping of public figures about the protests on Wednesday. Erdogan said on Tuesday he would not "kneel" before the protesters and that "this Tayyip Erdogan won't change".
The night saw some of the worst clashes since the troubles began. Police fired tear gas into thousands of people gathered on the square, including people in office clothes and some with families with children.
The crowd scattered into nearby narrow streets, leaving a handfull of hard core of protesters.
"We will continue our measures in an unremitting manner, whether day or night, until marginal elements are cleared and the square is open to the people," Istanbul Governor Huseyin Avni Mutlu declared on television on Tuesday night.
A fierce crackdown on initial protests against planned redevelopment of Gezi Park, a leafy corner of Taksim, triggered the wider protests, drawing in a broad alliance of secularists, nationalists, professional workers, unionists and students - some of whom would never before have considered sharing a political platform.
Riot police fired tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets in day-long clashes that lasted into the early hours on Wednesday, battling protesters.
Gezi Park has been turned into a ramshackle settlement of tents by leftists, environmentalists, liberals, students and professionals who see a plan to develop one of the few green spaces in Istanbul as symptomatic of an overbearing government.
Erdogan swept to power in 2002 after forging his AK Party from an alliance of centrist reformers and nationalists as well as remnants of Islamist parties banned in the past by secular authorities. Denying any plans to subvert Turkey's secular order, he set about deep-reaching social reforms.
He broke the political power of an army that had toppled four governments over four decades, including Turkey's first Islamist-led government with which he was associated. He also opened talks with the European Union, introduced some social reforms and sought to negotiate and end to a long-running Kurdish rebellion.
Throughout the protests, Erdogan has maintained a defiant tone, insisting he would not be bowed by what he described as a vocal minority. The demonstrators, he said, are being used by some financial institutions, the interest rate lobby and media groups to (harm) Turkey's economy and (scare away) investments.
UN, US appeal for calm
The UN and US government urged authorities in Turkey to respect protesters' right to freedom of assembly late on Tuesday, after police attempted to clear demonstrators from Istanbul's Taksim Square. "We are concerned by any attempts to punish individuals for exercising their right to free speech," US National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon stressed the right to freedom of assembly and called for the dialogue to resolve the protests.
The United States, which has held up Erdogan's Turkey in the past as an example of Muslim democracy that could benefit other countries in the Middle East, expressed concern about events in Turkey and urged dialogue between government and protesters.
"We believe that Turkey's long-term stability, security and prosperity is best guaranteed by upholding the fundamental freedoms of expression, assembly and association, and a free independent media," White House spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said.
With agencies inputs