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Turkish protestors hold fast despite warning

PM Tayyip Erdogan warned his patience may run out over the worst anti-government unrest in years.

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

ISTANBUL - A core of Turkish protesters showed little sign of easing their occupation of a central Istanbul square on Monday after Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan warned his patience may run out over the worst anti-government unrest in years.

Protesters, many camped out in tents, now control a large area around Taksim Square, with approach roads barricaded by masonry, paving stones and steel rods. Police have withdrawn completely from the area, water cannon kept hundreds of metres away by the side of the Bosphorus waterway.

The unrest has unnerved investors who have long viewed Turkey as one of the more stable emerging markets. Ratings agency Moody's said prolonged uncertainty could hit tourism revenues and slow investment in its capital markets.

Erdogan criticised speculators after the stock market fell almost 15 percent during last week's unrest. He said he would "choke" those who were growing rich off "the sweat of the people", comments that further jangled investors' nerves.

"This marks an abrupt about-turn for an administration that has always appeared to value foreign investment and has been very sensitive to markets," said Timothy Ash, head of emerging markets at Standard Bank.

"That era now seems to have ended and the administration appears set on a collision course with foreign investors and with markets," he said.

What began as a campaign against government plans to develop a leafy park in the corner of the square turned into a show of defiance against Erdogan and his Islamist-rooted AK Party after police firing tear gas and water cannon tried to flush out the campaigners ten days ago.

Erdogan has repeatedly dismissed the protesters as "capulcular", or riff-raff, a term they have proudly taken on as their own, but he has clearly been rattled, comparing the unrest with an army attempt six years ago to curb his power.

He held six rallies on Sunday, a measure of tensions after a week of the biggest protests of his decade in power. Thousands waved red Turkish flags and shouted, "Allahu akbar," (God is greatest) as he accused protesters of attacking women wearing headscarves and desecrating mosques by taking beer into them.

Some of the original Taksim protest organisers met on Monday to discuss whether to negotiate an end to the occupation of the square. Removing some of the barricades as a gesture of good will could be one bargaining tool.

Others were less optimistic, saying they had laid out demands including the release of detained protesters and a ban on police use of tear gas to Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc last Wednesday but had had no response.

"We want life on the square to return to normal," said Eyup Muhcu, head of the Chamber of Architects and part of the Taksim Solidarity Platform. "We are ready for dialogue...but the prime minister's remarks indicate he is not open to dialogue."

Abdulkadir Selvi, a political commentator close to the government, wrote in Yeni Safak newspaper that Erdogan would stick to a tough line.

"To summarise the new roadmap in short, Erdogan chose to fight. He will not reach an agreement with those who launched this movement against him or take a backward step," Selvi wrote.

He added a note of moderation.

"He will distinguish between those who have just demands, voicing their criticism without violence ... from those who use violent means to try and overthrow him."