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Many Turkish protesters refuse to meet with Erdogan

June 12, 2013 at 1:42 PM   |   Comments

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ISTANBUL, Turkey, June 12 (UPI) -- Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan met Wednesday with leaders of the protests that have roiled Istanbul for more than two weeks, officials said.

But Eyup Muhcu, who did not attend the meeting, said many decided the violent tactics used by police in overnight clashes showed there was no point in trying to talk to Erdogan, CNN reported. Others were not invited, Muhcu said, and those who did attend were Erdogan supporters.

Taksim Solidarity, a coalition supporting the protest movement, said none of its members were invited, Today's Zaman reported. Erdogan's office said those expected to attend included academics and other prominent protesters.

Fighting Wednesday morning followed a night of violence that included police firing tear gas, water cannons, rubber bullets and stun grenades against demonstrators protesting what they contend is Erdogan's increasingly authoritarian rule, including an attack on their secular lifestyles.

Also Wednesday, in Ankara, the capital, which has witnessed more violence than Istanbul in recent days, police fired tear gas at thousands of protesters in several neighborhoods, including at 1,000 people demonstrating at the large central Kizilay Square.

Erdogan, who once advised Syrian President Bashar Assad to negotiate and compromise, labeled Turkey's most severe anti-government protests in decades "an uprising against the democratic administration."

He told members of his party Tuesday, in a speech broadcast to the nation, the banners police ripped from a building overlooking central Istanbul's Taksim Square and adjacent Gezi Park were the mark of "terrorist organizations."

Authorities replaced the banners with the Turkish flag and a portrait of Turkish republic founder and first President Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

Erdogan, a devout Muslim facing the broadest challenge to his party in its 10 years in power, said he remained committed to Turkey's secular laws and denied becoming more authoritarian.

"When I speak against all that, they say, 'The prime minister speaks very harshly.' If you call this harsh, sorry, Tayyip Erdogan never changes," he said.

He also attacked the international media for waging a "comprehensive" campaign aimed at sullying Turkey's image.

Dozens of police engaged in running battles with jeering protesters in Istanbul throughout the night and into Wednesday daylight hours.

"Thugs! Thugs!" a protester shouted at police as they sprayed tear gas at her. "Let God bring the end of you!" The New York Times quoted her as saying.

Fires were lit as returning protesters chanted: "Everywhere is Taksim. Everywhere is resistance," British newspaper The Independent reported.

Amid the Taksim Square violence, security forces dragged onto a bus more than 70 lawyers staging a sit-in in solidarity with the demonstrators after skirmishes at Istanbul's High Court, the British newspaper The Guardian reported.

The confrontation -- which started a day after Erdogan promised to meet and negotiate with protest leaders Wednesday -- began about 7:30 a.m. Tuesday when hundreds of riot police marched toward the square armed with water cannons and armored crowd-control vehicles.

The Wall Street Journal described the protesters driven from the area as overwhelmingly peaceful.

Police secured the square's perimeter 30 minutes later.

But clashes intensified as thousands of additional demonstrators streamed toward the square, sparking running battles that continued through the night, leaving scores of people hospitalized, the Turkish Medical Association said.

Istanbul Gov. Huseyin Avni Mutlu told reporters the police action would continue until authorities cleared all "marginal groups" from the area.

The White House Tuesday called for dialogue to resolve differences between the government, a close Washington ally, and the protesters.

"We continue to follow events in Turkey with concern, and our interest remains supporting freedom of expression and assembly, including the right to peaceful protest," a White House spokeswoman said in a statement.

It was not clear early Wednesday if Erdogan's promised meeting with protest leaders would take place.

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