ISTANBUL, Turkey — Protesters defying a blunt warning from Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan engaged in running battles Tuesday with police who unleashed clouds of tear gas and blasts of water cannons in an effort to end nearly two weeks of protest.
After daylong street battles, protesters who were chased away in the early morning swarmed back into Istanbul’s central Taksim Square, which has become a focus for grievances in a country long regarded as a model of democracy and economic growth in the Muslim world.
They were met with more tear gas and water cannons, a reflection of a sharp increase in confrontations after several days of relative calm. By late Tuesday neither side appeared to be backing down.
Protesters angered by what they regard as Erdogan’s heavy hand spilled into surrounding streets and neighborhoods, adding supporters as they fought to get back to the square. Erdogan, who harshly criticized former Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak for his crackdown on “Arab Spring” protesters in 2011, appeared intent on making good on a warning that his patience was at an end.
“Erdogan is a foolish man,” said protester Osman Soybir, a civil engineer wearing swimming goggles to protect himself from the tear gas wafting from the square.
“This is not just a disappointment, it’s tragic. He has too much power and he showed us today he will use it,” Soybir added before another volley of tear gas sent him sprinting down the street.
Istanbul’s governor, Huseyin Mutlu, said the police operation would continue until the area was cleared of protesters.
“From this moment on, the unshakable power of our state and our nation will be shown on marginal groups by our police forces,” Mutlu said at a news conference.
The unrest began as a peaceful sit-in to protest plans to destroy the adjoining Gezi Park to make way for redevelopment, but it quickly swelled into nationwide demonstrations when police attempted to clear the park of demonstrators. Violence has also flared in other cities, notably in Izmir and the capital, Ankara. At least three people have died, including a police officer, and thousands have been injured, according to a doctors union.