Erdogan speaks during the opening session of the Ministry For European Union Affairs Conference. Ist
Erdogan speaks during the opening session of the Ministry For European Union Affairs Conference. Istanbul, June 7, 2013. Photo by AFP
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AP
Protesters gather in Kugulu Park in Ankara, Turkey, late Friday, June 7, 2013. Photo by AP

Tens of thousands of people thronged Istanbul's Taksim Square Saturday, and thousands more turned out in central Ankara, as protests that have presented Turkey's prime minister with the first serious challenge to his leadership entered their second week.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan convened his party leadership in Istanbul on Saturday to discuss the anti-government protests that have entered their ninth day. He has said the protests must end immediately. Following the meeting, the party's deputy chairman rejected calls by the opposition for early elections.

Earlier, Devlet Bahceli, head of Turkey's nationalist party, urged the government to call for early elections, saying that Erdogan must reaffirm his mandate by doing so. The ruling AKP's deputy chairman said in a statement that Turkey will not hold early elections.

"The prime minister's stance and the tumult have deepened the crisis," Bahceli told reporters. "The prime minister's time is up, we believe he has to renew his mandate."

The protests began as a sit-in at a park in Taksim Square to prevent a redevelopment project that would replace the park with replica Ottoman barracks
and a shopping mall. The mall idea seems to have fallen by the wayside, with Erdogan recently saying an opera house, theater and possibly a museum would be built instead.

But violent intervention by police to eject the protesters on May 31 outraged many, and the protests spread to dozens of cities across Turkey. Over the past nine days of demonstrations and frequent violent confrontations with police, three people have been killed - two protesters and a policeman - and thousands have been injured.

The protests have attracted a broad array of people angered by what they say are Erdogan's increasingly authoritarian ways and his intervention in private lives. They point to attempts to curtail the selling and promotion of alcohol, his comments on how women should dress and statements that each woman should have at least three children.

On Saturday, Istanbul's mayor confirmed that the government would go ahead with plans to reconstruct the Ottoman barracks in Taksim but had abandoned plans to build a shopping mall, luxury hotel or residences. He said all projects would be progress in consultation with civil society groups.

In Ankara, police removed about a dozen tents erected by protesters at a park in the capital, Ankara. No trouble was reported. Police in the city set up barricades as thousands of people began a march toward a central square.

While Taksim Square has been generally quiet for the past few days, clashes have broken out in other parts of the city. Riot police used water cannon and tear gas against protesters who set up street barricades in the Sultangazi neighborhood on the outskirts of Istanbul overnight.

Witnesses said at least one person was injured, hit in the face by a tear gas canister. Early Saturday, bloodstains could be seen on the ground amid debris from burned garbage bins and damaged shops.