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Turkey cracks down on protesters

ISTANBUL -- Turkish riot police using tear gas and water cannons battled protesters for control of Istanbul's Taksim Square last night, hours after Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan demanded an immediate end to 10 days of demonstrations.

Istanbul Gov. Huseyin Avni Mutlu appeared on television, declaring that police operations would continue day and night until the square, focus of demonstrations against Erdogan, was cleared.

Police fired volleys of tear gas canisters into a crowd of thousands -- people in office clothes as well as youths in masks who had fought skirmishes throughout the day -- scattering them into side streets and nearby hotels. Water cannons swept across the square targeting stone-throwers in masks.

The protesters, who accuse Erdogan of overreaching his authority after 10 years in power and three election victories, thronged the steep narrow lanes that lead down to the Bosporus waterway. Many gradually drifted back into the square and lit bonfires, only to be scattered by more tear gas.

Mutlu said 30 people were injured Tuesday.

Erdogan had earlier called on protesters to stay out of Taksim, where a police crackdown on a rally against development of the small Gezi Park abutting the square triggered an unprecedented wave of protest.

Gezi Park has been turned into a ramshackle settlement of tents by leftists, environmentalists, liberals, students and professionals who see the development plan as symptomatic of overbearing government.

The protests, during which demonstrators used fireworks and firebombs, have posed a stark challenge to Erdogan's authority and divided the country. Erdogan, who denies accusations of authoritarian behavior, declared he would not yield.

"They say the prime minister is rough. So what was going to happen here? Were we going to kneel down in front of these [people]?" Erdogan said as action to clear the square began.

"If you call this roughness, I'm sorry, but this Tayyip Erdogan won't change," he told a meeting of his AK party's parliamentary group.

Western allies have expressed concern about the troubles in an important NATO ally bordering Syria, Iraq and Iran. Washington has in the past held up Turkey as an Islamic democracy that could be emulated elsewhere in the Middle East.


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