Protesters forced from Gezi Park in Istanbul

June 16, 2013 at 8:25 AM

ISTANBUL, Turkey, June 16 (UPI) -- At least 29 people were injured Saturday and early Sunday as police dispersed protests from Istanbul's Gezi Park using tear gas and water, officials said.

Workers began cleaning up the park early Sunday after most of the protesters, who had been in the park for 18 days, left the area, CNN reported.

The protest began over Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's plan to turn Gezi Park, the last green space in Istanbul, into a shopping mall, but quickly grew into an anti-government demonstration.

Before violence erupted Saturday, Erdogan warned that if protesters did not leave voluntarily, they would be forcibly removed.

"If it is not emptied, from now on, this country's security forces will know how to empty that place," he said.

Erdogan also said that he is trying to negotiate with the demonstrators, but they would not meet him half way.

"We have reached out with our hands," he said. "However, some people returned their fists in response. Can you shake hands with those who reach out with a fist?"

Meanwhile, thousands of protesters took to the streets of the Turkish capital Ankara on Saturday in solidarity with those in Gezi Park, the BBC reported.

The Confederation of Public Workers' Unions also said it would call a nationwide strike Monday to express support for the protests.

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