Turkey's PM Erdogan and opponents hold mass rallies

  • 22 June 2013
  • From the section Europe
Media captionThe BBC's James Reynolds says there is anger that water cannon is being used on peaceful protests

Turkish activists have held a mass protest in Istanbul, hours after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan rallied his own supporters in a seaside resort.

Riot police used water cannon to disperse thousands gathered in Istanbul's Taksim Square.

Mr Erdogan told about 15,000 of his supporters that the protests were led by an international conspiracy.

Protests had eased since last Saturday, when police cleared Istanbul's Gezi Park, the focal point of unrest.

'One prayer'

A small protest over plans to redevelop the park began in May.

It exploded into nationwide anti-government unrest after the police used what activists said were heavy-handed tactics.

Mr Erdogan, who has become a hate figure for the protesters, initially appeared to want to placate his opponents, but later hardened his rhetoric.

On Saturday he told thousands of his supporters in the Black Sea city of Samsun how the protesters insulted Islam.

"Let them go into mosques in their shoes, let them drink alcohol in our mosques, let them raise their hand to our headscarved girls," he said.

"One prayer from our people is enough to frustrate their plans."

He also suggested an international conspiracy with financial interests that he termed the "interest-rate lobby" was behind the protests, though he did not elaborate.

'Just the beginning'

In Taksim Square, thousands had gathered to once again call for Mr Erdogan's resignation.

They chanted slogans such as "Dictator Tayyip" and: "This is just the beginning."

But riot police pushed the crowd out of the square, and deployed water cannon to remove stragglers.

TV images showed protesters putting up little resistance, and there appeared to be little violence.

By nightfall, hundreds of protesters continued to mill around on the edges of Taksim Square, with riot police occupying the central area.

The protesters argue that Mr Erdogan, who has been in power for a decade, has become increasingly authoritarian.

Many accuse him of pursuing an Islamist agenda, threatening Turkey's secular political tradition.

However, Mr Erdogan flags up Turkey's impressive economic performance since he became leader, and the large majorities he has won in three elections.

Mr Erdogan has also eradicated the coup culture that plagued Turkish politics, though his critics say he has silenced dissent in the process.