Turkish PM Erdogan and his wife Emine wave to supporters in Ankara, Turkey, June 9, 2013.
Turkish PM Erdogan and his wife Emine wave to supporters in Ankara, Turkey, June 9, 2013. Photo by AP
Text size
related tags
Reuters
Anti-government protesters gather during a rally in Istanbul's Taksim square, June 9, 2013. Photo by Reuters

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, facing the biggest protests of his tenure, called on his supporters to prepare for pro-government rallies next weekend in Istanbul and Ankara, as riot police fired tear gas and water cannon to clear protesters from an Ankara square.

"On Saturday, are you ready for a big Ankara meeting? ... The next day we will have the Istanbul meeting," Erdogan said to thousands of cheering supporters in Ankara, as riot police moved in against protesters just a few kilometers away.   

Erdogan told his supporters that his patience had its limits after days of protests. "We were patient, we will be patient, but there is an end to patience," Erdogan told crowds gathered at Ankara airport who were chanting slogans including "We are ready to sacrifice our lives for you Tayyip!"

Tens of thousands massed again in Taksim on Sunday, where riot police backed by helicopters and armored vehicles first clashed with protesters a week ago, some chanting for Erdogan to resign.

Turkish protest organizers  called for continued protests keep up pressure on the government to fire those responsible for a violent police crackdown and to abandon plans to redevelop a central Istanbul square.

Erdogan remained defiant. His AK Party on Saturday ruled out early elections and senior party officials said they may call their own public meetings in Istanbul and Ankara next week.

"My beloved brothers, we're walking towards a better Turkey. Don't allow those who attempt to plant divisive seeds to do so," he said earlier Sunday, addressing a crowd of supporters at the airport in the southern city of Adana, on his way to open a sporting event.

What began as a campaign against government plans to build over Gezi Park in Taksim Square, spiraled into an unprecedented display of public anger over the perceived authoritarianism of Erdogan and his Islamist-rooted AK Party.

Police fired tear gas and water cannon at protesters night after night in Istanbul and Ankara last week, in clashes which have left three dead and close to 5,000 injured.

The organizers of the initial protests in Taksim, calling themselves Taksim Solidarity, repeated their call for the redevelopment plans to be abandoned, police use of tear gas to be banned, those responsible for police violence to be dismissed and bans on demonstrations to be lifted.

"The demands are obvious. We call on government to take account of the reaction (on the street), act responsibly and fulfill demands being expressed by millions of people every day," the group said in a statement.

It called for another mass rally later on Sunday around Gezi Park, a leafy corner of the square where hundreds of activists have been sleeping in tents and vandalized buses, or wrapped in blankets under plane trees over the past week.

Erdogan has given no indication of plans to clear out Taksim, around which protesters have built dozens of barricades made of ripped up paving stones, street signs, vandalized vehicles and corrugated iron, clogging part of the city center.

Taksim is lined by luxury hotels that should be doing a roaring trade as the summer season starts in one of the world's most-visited cities. But a forced eviction might trigger a repeat of the clashes seen earlier in the week, which brought international condemnation.

Erdogan has made clear he has no intention of stepping aside, pointing to his AK Party's rising share of the vote in the country's past three elections, and has no clear rivals inside the party or out.

He has enacted many democratic reforms, taming a military that toppled four governments in four decades, starting entry talks with the European Union and forging peace talks with Kurdish rebels to end a three-decade-old war.

But in recent years, critics say his style, always forceful and emotional, has become authoritarian.

Media have come under pressure, opponents have been arrested over alleged coup plots, and moves such as restrictions on alcohol sales have unsettled secular middle-class Turks who are sensitive to any encroachment of religion on their daily lives.