Turkish authorities have freed 33 protesters who were detained in Izmir for posting “misinformation” via Twitter, hours before Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan returns from an overseas trip to face angry demonstrators.
The Tweeters were detained on Tuesday as part of a crackdown on hundreds of people fighting to save a park in Istanbul’s Taksim Square.
A police officer also died on Thursday after he fell from a bridge while pursuing protesters in Adana, bringing the total death toll during the unrest to three, Al Jazeera confirms.
The officer, Mustafa Sari, was critically injured after falling from the five-meter-high bridge into a construction site and was later pronounced dead at the hospital.
Police continued their clampdown on Wednesday, firing tear gas and using water cannons at crowds who joined mass demonstrations in Ankara, the capital.
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The government, meanwhile, hit out at the US for criticising the way the protests have been handled.
A Turkish foreign ministry source told the AFP news agency that Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey’s foreign minister, told his US counterpart John Kerry that he objected to comments by US officials that excessive use of force had been used to put down the protests.
“Turkey is not a second-class democracy,” he said in a phone call on Tuesday, according to the source.
Davutoglu assured Kerry that an investigation into the police response would be conducted.
He played down the demonstrations, likening them to the Occupy Wall Street movement in the US in 2011, the source said.
In response, US State Department official Jen Psaki said Washington did not think Turkey was a second-class democracy as she reiterated concerns about Turkish police brutality in quelling the protests.
Deputy Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Arinc has apologised to those injured in the crackdown.
Despite public anger and calls for his resignation, Erdogan, who began a four-day visit to North Africa on Monday and is due back on Thursday, has dismissed the protesters as “extremists”.
Deputy Prime Minister Huseyin Celik has urged supporters of Erdogan’s ruling AK party not to flock to the airport to welcome back the prime minister, fearing their presence could inflame tensions.
Al Jazeera’s Anita McNaught, reporting from Ankara, said that Erdogan had played down the protests.
“He can continue to play bad cop … or he can come back to see where they [protesters] are coming from,” she said.
The protests have so far killed two people, doctors and officials said, while hundreds have been injured.
The Ankara-based Human Rights Association says up to 1,000 people have been injured and more than 3,300 people have been detained over five days of protests.
Most of the injuries have been inflicted on the protesters by police using tear gas, pepper spray and water cannons.
The protesters have demanded that officials, including governors and senior police officials, responsible for the violent crackdown be removed from office, and called for the cancellation of the demolition of Gezi Park.
The protests appear to have developed spontaneously and remain leaderless.
A group of academics, architects and environmentalists, known as the “Taksim Solidarity Platform,” was formed to protect Taksim Square from development, including the rebuilding of an Ottoman army barracks and a shopping mall.
The protests were sparked by fury over a heavy-handed pre-dawn police raid on Friday to roust activists camping out in an attempt to stop the plans.