An uneasy calm has descended over Istanbul’s Taksim Square, the focal point of protests in Turkey, after a night of violent clashes that ended with demonstrators being ejected by the police.
Riot police used tear gas and water cannon on Tuesday evening, just hours after Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the prime minister, demanded an immediate end to almost two weeks of dissent.
Al Jazeera’s Mereana Hond said fresh squads of police had arrived on Wednesday morning to replace those left exhausted by a night of violence. The square has also been re-opened for traffic.
Taksim Square became the cradle for anti-government protests, which were spawned following heavy-handed police action to end an environmental protest in nearby Gezi Park.
Police overnight also fired tear gas on protesters in Gezi Park, despite earlier assurances that police would not try to remove people camped there.
Ugur Ozcan, a protester, said: “The governor promised not to make a move against Gezi Park. But for nearly eight to 10 hours the police have been attacking, even in the park…. this is brutal.”
Huseyin Avni Mutlu, the Istanbul governor, said on Tuesday: “I would like to say again we won’t be intervening upon the young people staying in the park. After today’s operation in Taksim, those protesters in Gezi Park are staying in a very risky area. If they decide to remain in this risky area it will be risky for them.”
Gezi Park has been turned into a ramshackle settlement of tents by leftists, environmentalists, liberals, students and professionals who see the development plan as symptomatic of overbearing government.
The wider anti-government protests have cited Erdogan as an authoritarian ruler and some suspect him of ambitions to replace the secular republic with an Islamic order, something he denies.
Erdogan, however, says the protests are engineered by vandals, terrorist elements and unnamed foreign forces.
Despite the demonstrations, he remains unrivalled as a leader in his AK Party, in parliament and on the streets.
His critics, who say conservative religious elements have won out over centrists in the AK Party, accuse him of inflaming the crisis with unyielding talk.
Erdogan, who denies accusations of authoritarian behaviour, declared he would not yield.
“They say the prime minister is rough. Were we going to kneel down in front of these [people]?” Erdogan told a meeting of his AK Party’s parliamentary group on Tuesday as action to clear Taksim Square began.
Turkey’s Medical Association said that as of late Monday, 4,947 people had sought treatment in hospitals and voluntary infirmaries for injuries, ranging from cuts and burns to breathing difficulties from tear-gas inhalation, since the unrest began more than 10 days ago.
Four people, including a policeman, have died in the protests.