Police and anti-government protesters have clashed in the streets leading to a central square in Istanbul, as Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has displayed a show of strength in a rally organised by his ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party only a few kilometers away from the violence.
Thousands of protesters have been trying to reach Taksim Square on Sunday after overnight police intervention at an Istanbul park where anti-government protests were first ignited more than two weeks ago.
Riot police continued their offensive on protesters as they fired bursts of tear gas and water cannon on Sunday after a night of unrest to try to prevent demonstrators from regrouping and keep them away from Taksim Square, where Gezi Park is located.
Bulldozers removed barricades and municipal workers swept the streets around the central Taksim Square, sealed off by police, after thousands took to the streets overnight following the raid on the park.
Meanwhile, speaking at his party’s pro-government rally in Istanbul, Erdogan accused international media of “lying”, apparently referring to the coverage of the recent protests. He said that foreign media sources were not portraying an accurate representation of Turkey.
“Come on BBC, CNN and Reuters… Display this differently as well,” he told tens of thousands of supporters. “This is the real picture of Turkey, despite international media.”
He also targeted the European parliament over a resolution it adopted regarding the protests. “Turkey is not a country that can be convicted by parliaments that do not know about Turkey,” Erdogan said, adding the EU should “know [its] place!”.
In a resolution passed on Thursday in Strasbourg, the EU institution warned the government against the use of “harsh measures” against peaceful protestors and urged Erdogan to take a “unifying and conciliatory” stance. It also expressed its deep concern “at the disproportionate and excessive use of force by Turkish police.
Meanwhile, Istanbul’s governor said on Sunday that the planned gathering by an anti-government protest group in Taksim Square would not be allowed to go ahead.
“There is a call for gathering in Taksim at 4:00pm [local time; 13:00GMT],” Governor Huseyin Avni Mutlu told reporters. “Any call for Taksim will not contribute to peace and security. After the current environment becomes stable, they can continue exercising their democratic rights. Under current circumstances we will not allow any gathering.”
Mutlu said two police officers were shot during Saturday’s riots by live ammunition, adding that they are in good condition.
He also confirmed the reports that doctors helping protesters were arrested. “Yes, doctors have been arrested but they are acting in conjunction with the protesters,” he said.
He also rejected reports claiming that water sprayed from water cannon at protesters contained any additional chemicals.
In Ankara, police forces have prevented a large group of people from entering capital Ankara’s central Kizilay Square. Water cannon and tear gas have been used by riot police against protesters.
The group was trying to enter the square following protester Ethem Sarisuluk’s funeral in order to commemorate him where he died.
The government says the demonstrators are being manipulated by illegal groups seeking to sow instability while the movement says that the government has been acting increasingly authoritarian.
Turkey has been in turmoil since late May after a sit-in protest against an urban development project at Gezi Park of Istanbul transformed into countrywide anti-government demonstrations.