Defiant Turkish PM Erdogan urges end to protests

Mr Erdogan addressed the crowds from an open-top bus, as they chanted his name

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called for protests across the country to end immediately.

At Istanbul airport he told crowds of supporters who were welcoming him home from a four-day North Africa tour that the protests bordered on illegality.

But as he spoke, thousands of anti-government protesters were also rallying in Istanbul's Taksim Square.

The unrest began as a local protest over a park in Istanbul but spiralled into nationwide demonstrations.

'Common sense'

An estimated 10,000 supporters of Mr Erdogan's AKP party descended on the airport to welcome him home in the early hours of Friday.

Standing alongside his wife and government ministers on an open-top bus, he told the crowd: "These protests that are bordering on illegality must come to an end as of now."

How the crisis spiralled - in 90 seconds

At times Mr Erdogan was almost drowned out by the cheering and chanting of his supporters.

"We have never been for building tension and polarisation, but we cannot applaud brutality," he said.

Some of his supporters chanted: "Let us go, let's crush Taksim."

However, Mr Erdogan urged them to "go home" peacefully.

"You have remained calm, mature and showed common sense," he said. "We're all going to go home from here."

Mr Erdogan responded to calls for his resignation by referring to his election victory in 2011 when he took 50% of the vote.

"They say I am the prime minister of only 50%. It's not true. We have served the whole of the 76 million from the east to the west," he told the crowd.

Gezi Park

Tents set up by protesters at Gezi Park (6 June 2013)
  • The demolition of Gezi Park - the issue which sparked the protests - is a part of a wider urban redevelopment project in Istanbul
  • The government wants to pedestrianise and ease traffic around Taksim Square; Kalyon Group, a company which has close ties with the government, has been contracted to carry out the project
  • The project also includes building a shopping centre which PM Erdogan says would not be "a traditional mall", but rather would include cultural centres, an opera house and a mosque
  • The plan also includes rebuilding an Ottoman-era military barracks near the site and demolishing the historic Ataturk Cultural Centre
  • Some see this as having historic symbolism as, according to some accounts, the barracks were the cradle of a pro-Islamic mutiny in 1909

It was the first major show of support for Mr Erdogan following a week of protests in which his opponents have called for him to resign.

The BBC's Mark Lowen in Istanbul says the rapturous welcome that the prime minister received shows the level of support he still commands.

However, Mr Erdogan's words are likely to fan the flames of the protest, he adds.

The divisions in Turkey look set to deepen in the days ahead and could be very dangerous indeed, our correspondent says.

The original sit-in at Gezi Park last Friday spiralled into mass protests after police cracked down on activists defending the green space near Taksim Square from developers.

Correspondents in Taksim Square say the atmosphere is good-natured, with protesters dancing and chanting political slogans.

Many are part of a secular, well-educated middle class which feels that Turkey lacks a proper, free political culture, the BBC's Jeremy Bowen in Istanbul reports.

One protester in the square, named as Deniz, told reporters: "He [Erdogan] cannot take the park, there is no way. You know what? He will cause a war inside the country. We will keep resisting."

Protesters accuse Mr Erdogan's government of becoming increasingly authoritarian and trying to impose conservative Islamic values on a secular state.

His Justice and Development Party (AKP) has governed Turkey since 2002.

Speaking in Tunis earlier, Mr Erdogan acknowledged that police had used "excessive force" against activists at the original sit-in. But he said that a small group was now manipulating what had started as an environmental protest.

"Among the protesters there are extremists, some of them implicated in terrorism," he told reporters.

Mr Erdogan also defended the urban development plan for Gezi Park.

Turkey's stock market dropped nearly 5% after his remarks.

Amid growing international concern at the unrest, the US has urged Turkish officials to refrain from "unhelpful rhetoric" and France has condemned the heavy-handed police response.

Four people, including a police officer, are reported to have died since the protests began, with thousands more hurt and hundreds arrested.

Interior Minister Muammer Guler has said that more than 500 police officers are among the injured.

The protests come as Turkey prepares to host an international conference focused on its relations with the EU on Friday.

Mr Erdogan is to make the opening speech at the event.

Negotiations with the EU have stalled in recent years amid concerns over Turkey's freedom of speech, treatment of religious minorities, women's and children's rights, civilian control of the military and long-running tensions over Cyprus.

Map of protest locations in Turkey and Istanbul

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