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Police fire tear gas at Istanbul protesters

Thousands gather in Turkish city to denounce new laws increasing government control over the courts and the Internet.

Last updated: 23 Feb 2014 03:04
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At least five people were reportedly detained following clashes between police and protesters [AFP]

Turkish riot police have fired tear gas to disperse thousands of demonstrators in central Istanbul protesting against what they see as authoritarian new laws from Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government.

Officers backed by water cannon on Saturday evening cleared demonstrators from the main Istiklal shopping street, some chanting "Everywhere Taksim, Everywhere Resistance", a reference to weeks of protests last year.

Tear gas spread into shops and restaurants as police chased proteters into side streets, in the second such protest in recent weeks, the Reuters news agency reported.

At least five people were detained, according to the AP news agency. 

Battling a corruption scandal, Erdogan's ruling AK Party has pushed through laws tightening government control over the Internet and courts this month, and has proposed a bill envisaging broader powers for the national intelligence agency.

"[Prime Minister] Tayyip Erdogan, don't pull the Internet plug," read one banner among the crowds.

"We are here because we are sick and tired of Tayyip's angry scolding and AK Party laws trying to limit every freedom we have," said Sinem Gul, a 26-year-old architect.

Erdogan's critics see the new laws as an authoritarian backlash against the corruption inquiry shaking his government, which his supporters say is a plot against him by powerful US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, who wields extensive, if covert, influence over the police and judiciary, Reuters reported..

EU criticism

Social media and video-sharing sites have been awash with leaked recordings presented as evidence of government wrongdoing since the corruption scandal erupted in December.

The government said the laws - including the Internet bill which allows web pages to be blocked within hours - protect privacy and defend democracy.

This week, Turkish President Abdullah Gul ignored calls for a veto and signed the Internet bill into law, saying he had received government assurances that two disputed articles of the legislation would be amended.

The European Union has criticised the legislation and called it "a step back" for media freedom.

The corruption scandal poses one of the greatest threats to Erdogan's 11-year-old rule and his response, including dismissing or reassigning thousands of police officers and hundreds of prosecutors and judges, has betrayed what critics said are increasingly authoritarian tendencies.

Gulen has denied orchestrating the scandal and his supporters have said they are the victims of a witch-hunt.

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