Turkey protests: Police clear Istanbul's Taksim Square

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Media captionA protester in Taksim Square tells the BBC's Mark Lowen how tear gas felt like "a panic attack"

Turkish riot police have cleared Istanbul's Taksim Square, which has been occupied by anti-government protesters for close to two weeks.

Police deployed water cannon and fired tear gas and rubber bullets, causing many protesters to flee the square into adjoining Gezi Park.

Some activists hurled fireworks, fire bombs and stones at police.

The unrest began after a crackdown on an environmental protest over Gezi Park's redevelopment.

The protests then widened, with demonstrators accusing Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government of becoming increasingly authoritarian and trying to impose conservative Islamic values on a secular state.

Mr Erdogan defended the police intervention on Tuesday, saying that an environmental movement had been hijacked by people who wanted to harm Turkey.

In a speech that was frequently interrupted by applause, he asked: "What did the protesters expect? That we would kneel down before them?"

And he appeared to contradict Istanbul Governor Huseyin Avni Mutlu, who had earlier said the police had no intention of breaking up the protest in Gezi Park.

"I invite them to withdraw from the park and I ask this as prime minister.

"I am sorry but Gezi Park is for taking promenades, not for occupation," Mr Erdogan said.

Reuters news agency is reporting that several dozen riot police briefly entered the park but withdrew back into Taksim Square when they were confronted by a crowd of several hundred protesters.

Police have removed protesters' banners which had been hung from a building overlooking Taksim Square, replacing them with the national flag and a portrait of the father of the Turkish state, Kemal Ataturk.

Image caption This was seen as a show of force by the Turkish police
Image caption Protesters in Taksim Square were targeted with a tear gas canister bombardment
Image caption Some protesters armed themselves with firebombs
Image caption The police lines came under attack
Image caption Many protesters fled the square and sought refuge in Gezi Park

The BBC's Mark Lowen, in the square, says this was a deliberate show of force that may jeopardise plans by Mr Erdogan to meet the protest organisers on Wednesday.

Three people have died and more than 5,000 have been injured since the protests began.

Smaller protests have occurred in the capital, Ankara, too. Police there have used water cannon and tear gas to break up demonstrations almost every night.