Disturbances continued well into the night of Friday into Saturday in Turkey as police clashed with demonstrators in the fiercest anti-government protests for years.
The violence spread to several cities, including the capital Ankara and the coastal city of Izmir. Hundreds of people are thought to have been injured – one woman is in a critical condition and has undergone brain surgery. There have been dozens of arrests.
The unrest began over an environmental protest in Istanbul against a plan to transform Gezi Park which includes building a new shopping centre. It has rapidly become a far wider expression of discontent against government authoritarianism in particular.
One demonstrator said: “This isn’t about trees anymore, it’s about all of the pressure we are under from the government. We’re fed up, we don’t like the direction the country is taking.”
A university academic taking part in the protest said “we don’t have a government, we have (prime minister) Tayyip Erdogan”, and predicted a “summer of discontent”.
In Ankara earlier, police fired tear gas at opposition supporters who tried to reach the ruling party headquarters.
The response of the authorities, involving the widespread use of tear gas and water cannon, has prompted international concern. On Friday Amnesty International condemned what it called “excessive force against peaceful protesters” over the original Istanbul demonstrations. It says its own observers were struck by police truncheons and tear gassed.
Washington said it seemed the protesters were exercising freedoms “crucial to any healthy democracy” and warned Turkey to uphold them.
The Turkish interior minister promised that allegations that police had used disproportionate force would be investigated.
The economy has been transformed during Erdogan’s decade in power and he remains the country’s most popular politician. But he has been accused of tolerating little dissent.
Hundreds of military officers have been jailed after being found guilty of plotting a coup against him in recent years. Academics, journalists, politicians and others face trial on similar charges. Government opponents often see the prosecutions as politically motivated.
From restrictions on alcohol sales and warnings over behaviour in public, many see the heavy hand of government and especially of the prime minister.
Erdogan has denied trying to impose Islamic values, insisting he is committed to state secularism.
He has vowed to push ahead with several large infrastructure projects he sees as embodying Turkey’s emergence as a major power. They include plans to redevelop the area around Istanbul’s Taksim Square, the source of the recent protests.
Critics accuse the government of a lack of consultation and say one of central Istanbul’s few remaining green spaces would disappear.
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