Anti-govt protests in Turkey surges
Turkish PM Tayyip Erdogan returns from international duty to a nation racked by protests against his govt.
ISTANBUL - Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan returns on Thursday to a nation racked by protests against his leadership, in what could prove a pivotal moment in Turkey's worst political unrest for decades.
Erdogan returns from a visit to North Africa to face demands that he apologise over a fierce police crackdown and sack those who ordered it, following a week of protests that have left two dead and more than 4,000 injured in a dozen cities.
What began as a campaign against the redevelopment of a leafy Istanbul park has surged into an unprecedented show of defiance against the perceived authoritarianism of Erdogan and his Islamist-rooted AK Party.
Police backed by armoured vehicles have fired tear gas and water cannon on stone-throwing protesters night after night, while thousands have massed peacefully in recent days on Taksim Square, where the demonstrations first began.
The straight-talking prime minister left on Monday in a defiant mood, dismissing the protesters as looters and vowing the unrest would be over in a matter of days, comments that his critics said further inflamed tensions.
"We should keep coming here to protest until we really feel we've achieved something," said Cetin, a 29-year old civil engineer who declined to give his surname because he works for a company close to the government.
Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc, formally in charge while Erdogan is away, has struck a more conciliatory tone, apologising for the initial police crackdown on peaceful campaigners in Taksim's Gezi Park and meeting a delegation of protesters on Tuesday in his office in Ankara.
"We demand the removal from duty of those who gave the order to inflict force ... starting with the governors and police chiefs of Istanbul, Ankara and Hatay," he told reporters, referring to the areas worst affected by violence.
A second trade union federation representing hundreds of thousands of workers joined the protests on Wednesday calling for Tayyip to resign.
There were similar scenes in Kizilay park in the government quarter of Ankara, where police later fired pepper spray and water cannon to disperse several thousand protesters.
Despite the protest, Erdogan remains by far the country's most popular politician, his blustering, assertive style and common touch courting the conservative Islamic heartland.
His AK Party has won an increasing share of the vote in three successive elections and holds around two thirds of the seats in parliament. But he, and those around him, face a challenge calming widening protests without appearing to lose face.
Clashes erupted late on Tuesday in the eastern province of Tunceli, where police fired tear gas and water cannon at hundreds of protesters who set up barricades and threw stones.
And on Wednesday, a small group of people who read a statement in support of the protests were set upon in the Black Sea city of Rize, Erdogan's ancestral home and a stronghold of the AK Party, CNN Turk reported an attack that only ended after police intervened.