Police clear Istanbul's Gezi Park after Erdogan warning
- 16 June 2013
- From the section Europe
Turkish riot police have cleared a park in the centre of Istanbul which has been occupied for more than two weeks by anti-government protesters.
Officers moved into Gezi Park in Taksim Square, firing water cannon and tear gas. Several people were hurt, some of them allegedly by rubber bullets.
There were also reports of continuing stand-offs in other parts of Istanbul.
The police operation came hours after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan called for an end to the occupation.
He said Taksim Square had to be "evacuated" ahead of a rally planned by his Justice and Development (AK) Party on Sunday.
The Confederation of Public Workers' Unions (KESK) has said it will call a nationwide strike on Monday, while another union grouping is deciding whether to join the action.
What began as a protest against plans to redevelop Gezi Park last month has evolved into wider anti-government unrest.
Demonstrators had vowed to occupy the park until their demands were met.
However, it took riot police less than half an hour on Saturday evening to bring an end to the 18-day occupation.
The BBC's James Reynolds, who was at the park, says the officers advanced slowly, wearing gas masks and carrying riot shields, amid a cloud of white tear gas.
Most protesters chose to leave to avoid getting hurt. Some regrouped in nearby streets, but police fired more tear gas in an effort to disperse them.
"We tried to flee and the police pursued us. It was like war," Claudia Roth, the co-chair of Germany's Greens party who was in the park, told the Reuters news agency.
After the park was cleared of people, police tore down the colourful tents and banners.
Istanbul Governor Huseyin Avni Mutlu described the operation as "extremely smooth" and said 29 people had been lightly injured.
"We will continue our work to constitute a peaceful environment in the next few hours," he added.
Tayfun Kahraman, a member of the Taksim Solidarity umbrella group of protest movements, said a number of demonstrators had been hit by rubber bullets.
"Let them keep the park, we don't care any more. Let it all be theirs. This crackdown has to stop. The people are in a terrible state,'' he told the Associated Press.
Earlier on Saturday, Mr Erdogan told tens of thousands of AK supporters in Ankara: "If Taksim Square is not evacuated, this country's security forces will know how to evacuate it.
"Staying there [in Gezi Park] makes no sense anymore as the matter is now in the hands of the courts. Nobody can intimidate us. We take no orders or instruction from anyone but God."
He also dismissed the wave of demonstrations as part of an organised plot against him.
Our correspondent says the prime minister has now won back the ground that he lost to protesters two weeks ago.
But it is not yet clear which side has won the larger fight for the country's support, our correspondent adds.
On 31 May, a crackdown on environmentalists in Gezi Park provoked protests across Turkey against the police and Mr Erdogan's government.
On Saturday, the protesters vowed to continue occupying Gezi Park despite a promise by Mr Erdogan to halt the development plan for the park until a court ruling on the issue.
Last month, an Istanbul court issued an initial injunction against the plan to cut down trees in the park to make way for a shopping centre and replica 18th-Century military barracks. The government has appealed against the ruling.
Mr Erdogan's offer was presented as a major concession. But after discussions in Gezi Park on Friday night, the protesters said their movement was more than just a conservation protest and vowed to stay on.
Five people have died and thousands have been injured since the protests began.
Demonstrators have accused Mr Erdogan's government of becoming increasingly authoritarian and of trying to impose conservative Islamic values on a secular state.
The police crackdown on protesters in Istanbul, Ankara, and other towns and cities has drawn international concern, especially from Europe.