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Turkey unrest enters third day

Protesters lit fires and scuffled with riot police in Istanbul and Ankara early on Sunday morning.

Protestors clash with Turkish riot policemen during a protest against the demolition of Taksim Gezi Park on 31 May 2013. Picture: AFP

ISTANBUL/ANKARA: Protesters lit fires and scuffled with police in parts of Istanbul and Ankara early on Sunday, but the streets were generally quieter after two days of Turkey's fiercest anti-government demonstrations for years.

Hundreds of protesters set fires in the Tunali district of the capital Ankara, while riot police fired tear gas and pepper spray to hold back groups of stone-throwing youths near Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's office in Istanbul.

Istanbul's central Taksim Square, where the protests have been focused, was quieter after riot police pulled back their armoured trucks late on Saturday.

Demonstrators lit bonfires among overturned vehicles, broken glass and rocks and played cat-and-mouse on side streets with riot police, who fired occasional volleys of tear gas.

The unrest was triggered by protests against government plans to build a replica Ottoman-era barracks to house shops or apartments in Taksim, long a venue for political protest. But it has widened into a broader show of defiance against Erdogan and his Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP).

Interior Minister Muammer Guler said on Saturday that 939 people had been arrested in more than 90 separate demonstrations around the country.

More than 1,000 people have been injured in Istanbul and several hundred more in Ankara, according to medics.

The ferocity of the police response has shocked Turks, as well as tourists caught up in the unrest in one of the world's most visited destinations.

It has drawn rebukes from the United States, European Union and international rights groups.

Helicopters fired tear gas canisters into residential neighbourhoods and police have used tear gas to try to smoke people out of buildings.

"All dictators use the same methods, oppressing their people," said Mehmet Haspinar, a 60-year-old retired government employee sheltering in a building entrance way as riot police fired pepper spray in an Ankara back street.