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Turkish Prime Minister denounces riots in cities

Tayyip Erdogan blames the unrest on secular enemies who never accepted the election success.

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

ISTANBUL - Anti-government protesters responsible for Turkey's worst riots in years are "arm-in-arm with terrorism", Prime Minister Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said, in a defiant response to four days of unrest in dozens of cities across the country.

Hundreds of police and protesters have been injured since Friday, when a demonstration to halt construction in a park in an Istanbul square grew into mass protests against a heavy-handed police crackdown and what opponents call Erdogan's authoritarian policies.

The demonstrations showed no sign of abating on Monday with protesters returning to Taksim Square. Barricades of rubble hindered traffic alongside the Bosphorus waterway and blocked entry into the area.

Leftist groups hung out red and black flags and banners calling on Erdogan to resign and declaring: "Whatever happens, there is no going back."

In Ankara, police charged mostly teenage demonstrators and scattered them using teargas and water cannon.

Erdogan has dismissed the protests as the work of secular enemies never reconciled to the election success of his AK party, which has roots in Islamist parties banned in the past but which also embraces centre-right and nationalist elements.

The party has won three straight elections and overseen an economic boom, increasing Turkey's influence in the region.

"This is a protest organised by extremist elements," Erdogan said before departing on a trip to North Africa. "We will not give away anything to those who live arm-in-arm with terrorism."

Turkey's leftist Public Workers Unions Confederation (KESK) said it would begin a two-day warning strike on Tuesday to protest at the police crackdown on what had begun as peaceful protests.

The unrest delivered a blow to Turkish financial markets that have thrived under Erdogan. Shares fell more than 10% and the lira dropped to 16-month lows on Monday.

The United States called for restraint in a rebuke to its NATO ally. "We are concerned by the reports of excessive use of force by police," Secretary of State John Kerry said in Washington.

Since taking office in 2002, Erdogan has curtailed the power of the army, which ousted four governments in the second half of the 20th century and which hanged and jailed many, including a prime minister.

Hundreds of officers, as well as journalists and intellectuals have been jailed over an alleged coup plot against Erdogan. The wind of change has swept also through the judiciary. Where Erdogan was jailed in the late 1990s for promoting Islamism by reciting a poem, a musician was recently jailed for blasphemy after mocking religion in a tweet.

Some object to new restrictions on alcohol sales as religiously motivated. Others complain of the costs of Erdogan's support of rebels in neighbouring Syria's civil war and economic grievances.

Erdogan appeared to reject accusations of heavy handedness, saying authorities were "behaving in a very restrained way".

He said plans would go ahead to re-make Taksim Square, long a rallying point for demonstrations, including construction of a new mosque and the rebuilding of a replica Ottoman-era barracks.

Erdogan has dismissed claims that the unrest could prolong like the one in Syria.