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Clashes, chaos erupt at Ankara gathering for slain protester

By Ian Lee, Antonia Mortensen, and Gul Tuysuz, CNN
updated 4:30 AM EDT, Mon June 17, 2013
  • Pots and pans echo, tear gas wafts over Istanbul streets
  • Clashes erupt in Ankara, including at an event to honor a slain protester
  • Erdogan supporters cheer for him at an Istanbul rally
  • Erdogan remains defiant of protest demands

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Ankara, Turkey (CNN) -- A peaceful gathering to honor a slain protester turned into chaos Sunday in Ankara as Turkish riot police used water cannons and tear gas to try to disperse rock-throwing demonstrators.

In Istanbul, the sound of residents banging pots and pans together echoed down the streets as another face-off between police and anti-government protesters played out. The sound came from the buildings around Taksim Square and the adjacent Gezi Park, which authorities had cleared by force on Saturday.

Thousands of demonstrators calling for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's resignation attempted to return to the square and park Sunday, only to be pushed back by police. The neighborhood south of the park was filled with the smell of burning as police swept through the area, firing tear gas at knots of protesters in the streets.

At least 29 people were injured in Saturday night's clashes, Istanbul Gov. Huseyin Avni Mutlu said. Police had warned demonstrators who have occupied Istanbul's last remaining green space for more than two weeks to depart voluntarily or face being ejected.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks to the deputies of his ruling Justice and Development Party during a meeting with Turkish parliament on Tuesday, June 18. Erdogan said he had no intention of restricting anyone's democratic rights. "If you want to make a protest do it, do it, but do it within the framework of law," he said. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks to the deputies of his ruling Justice and Development Party during a meeting with Turkish parliament on Tuesday, June 18. Erdogan said he had no intention of restricting anyone's democratic rights. "If you want to make a protest do it, do it, but do it within the framework of law," he said.
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While the anti-government protests are unlikely to threaten the rule of Erdogan, who has been one of Turkey's most popular leaders and is credited with the country's decade of economic growth, they are raising questions about what critics say is a growing authoritarian rule. For his part, Erdogan accuses outsiders of taking advantage of the protests at Gezi Park.

Earlier Sunday, thousands of Erdogan's supporters gathered at a rally a few miles from Taksim Square. They waved flags and sang songs at a rally that was widely viewed as a re-election rally for the prime minister.

Erdogan, who has been defiant to protest demands, compared his supporters with the protesters: "Hundreds of thousands in here are not like the vandals with petrol-bombs in their hands."

In Ankara, authorities had warned against a gathering to honor Ethem Sarisuluk, who was shot during protests two weeks ago.

The gathering took place under a heavy police presence around Kiziyali Square, a different part of the city from where Sarisuluk's funeral procession was held.

At one point, Sarisuluk's brother knelt in the middle of the road in an attempt to stop oncoming traffic, while police fired tear gas and water cannons at demonstrators. The protesters, in turn, threw rocks at police and put up makeshift barricades to block off streets.

The protests started at the end of May over the prime minister's plan to turn Istanbul's Gezi Park into a mall. They quickly turned into large anti-government demonstrations that included calls for political reforms.

Thugs or protesters?

Erdogan complained Saturday that demonstrators were not meeting him halfway.

"We have reached out with our hands," he said. "However, some people returned their fists in response. Can you shake hands with those who reach out with a fist?"

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He also ridiculed the protesters' assertions that they are environmentalists, calling them "thugs" and citing their honking of horns as evidence of their insincerity. "This is called noise pollution," he said.

He accused demonstrators of inciting sectarian violence by attacking a woman in a headscarf, kicking her, dragging her on the ground and snatching her head cover.

He said some demonstrators entered a mosque wearing shoes, drank alcohol there and wrote insulting slogans on the walls -- acts forbidden by Muslims.

Erdogan praised his government's performance over the past 10 years, citing a rising standard of living, a quintupling of the central bank's reserves and plans to build an airport.

Root of protests

The unrest began in Istanbul nearly three weeks ago, when a small group of people turned out to protest government plans to bulldoze Gezi Park and replace it with a shopping mall housed inside a replica of 19th-century Ottoman barracks.

Protesters said the plans represented a creeping infringement on their rights in a secular society.

Turkey was founded after secularists in the early 20th century defeated Islamic Ottoman forces, and many modern-day secularists frown on Ottoman symbols.

The protests broadened into an outpouring in the square and throughout the country as security forces cracked down on demonstrators.

The unrest also signaled political danger for Erdogan, a populist and democratically elected politician serving his third term in office.

CNN's Ian Lee and Antonia Mortensen reported from Ankara; Gul Tuysuz, Arwa Damon, Joe Duran and Karl Penhaul reported from Istanbul; Chelsea J. Carter and Josh Levs reported and wrote from Atlanta.

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