Turkey protests: Clashes rage in Istanbul's Besiktas

A bulldozer made its way towards the prime minister's office, as James Reynolds reports

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Turkish protesters have clashed with police in Istanbul overnight, in some of the worst violence since unrest erupted three days ago.

Protesters in Besiktas district tore up paving stones to build barricades, and police responded with tear gas and water cannon.

The violence was sparked by plans to build on a city park but have broadened into nationwide anti-government unrest.

Protesters say the Turkish government is becoming increasingly authoritarian.

I have covered Syntagma in Athens, the Occupy protests and reported from Tahrir Square in Cairo. This is different to all of them. First, it is massive: the sheer numbers dwarf any single episode of civil unrest in Greece.

Second, the breadth of social support - within the urban enclave of Istanbul - is bigger than Greece and closer to Egypt. "Everyone is here - except the AK Party" - says one young woman. People nod. In Greece, the urban middle class was split; here the secular middle class is out in force, united across political divisions, to say nothing of football hatreds.

Is this the Turkish Tahrir? Not unless the workers join in: Turkey has a large labour movement, and a big urban poor, working population, and Monday is a work day, so we will see. It is certainly already something more than the Turkish version of Occupy.

They fear Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) is trying to impose conservative Islamic values on the officially secular country and infringe on their personal freedoms, correspondents say.

Officials say more than 1,700 people have been arrested in demonstrations in 67 towns and cities, though many have since been released.

Late on Sunday, the White House said in a statement that all parties should "calm the situation", and reaffirmed that peaceful demonstrations were "part of democratic expression".

The US previously criticised the security forces for their initial response to the protest.

Roads sealed off

Mosques, shops and a university in Besiktas were turned into makeshift hospitals for those injured in Sunday night's demonstration.

Several thousand people took part in the protest outside the recently decommissioned Besiktas football stadium.

Observers say some of the protesters were coughing violently and vomiting after police fired gas canisters into the crowd.

Nearby, police also battled to protect the prime minister's office, which became another focal point for the protesters.

They were said to have sealed off roads surrounding Mr Erdogan's office in a bid to push back protesters.

Timeline of protests

Protesters clash with riot police near Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan office, between Taksim and Besiktas in Istanbul, on June 3

28 May: Small group of people attempt to block the removal of trees in Gezi Park, Istanbul. Police use tear gas and the cutting goes ahead.

29 May: Crowds in the park grow, some setting up camp.

31 May: Police move in to evict protesters, using tear gas and water cannon. Several people are injured. Protests against the police response break out in Izmir, Ankara and elsewhere. The interior ministry promises to investigate.

1 June: Tens of thousands converge on Istanbul's Taksim Square. PM Erdogan condemns the protests and vows development will go ahead. Numbers in the square later swell as the police pull out.

2 June: Protests continue in several towns and cities. Mr Erdogan condemns the "plunderers", but says a mosque will be built in the square.

Unrest was also reported in the capital, Ankara, and the western coastal city of Izmir, as well as Adana in the south and Gaziantep in the south-east.

Police raided a shopping complex in central Ankara where they believed demonstrators were sheltering, Reuters news agency reported.

According to the Turkish Doctors' Association, 484 protesters have been treated in hospitals in Istanbul since Friday.

'A few looters'

Many of the protesters in Istanbul appear to be young and urban middle class.

Last week, the government passed legislation curbing the sale and advertising of alcoholic drinks.

Mr Erdogan says the protesters are undemocratic and have been provoked by the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP).

Speaking in a televised interview on Sunday, the prime minister dismissed those taking part in protests as "a few looters" and strongly criticised social media sites, singling out Twitter, which he said was "an extreme version of lying".

On Sunday, the area around Gezi Park, where the protests first erupted, was largely peaceful.

But after police used tear gas and water cannon to disperse demonstrators, triggering accusations of excessive force, the numbers swelled in nearby Taksim Square.

The protests began on a small scale last week over redevelopment plans for the park to make way for the rebuilding of an Ottoman-era barracks, reportedly to house a shopping centre.

The demonstrators say the park is one of the few green spaces in Istanbul, and object to the loss of public space for commercial purposes.

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