Connect to share and comment

Turkish police retreat from Taksim Square protests

Turkey's prime minister called for an immediate end to the violent protests that have engulfed Istanbul for two days.

Police retreated from Taksim Square on Saturday, allowing a small reprieve from the violent protests that have engulfed Istanbul for two days.

Demonstrations across Turkey injured at least 79 people, including 26 members of the Turkish security forces, Interior Minister Muammer Guler told Turkey's semi-official Anadolu news agency on Saturday.

In Istanbul's central Taksim Square, police pulled back the tear gas, water cannons and pepper spray and allowed tens of thousands of protesters to enter the square, shouting taunts at Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, including "We are here Tayyip, where are you?", "Government resign" or "Dictator resign".

Prime Minister Erdogan called for an immediate end to violent protests, which were some of the largest anti-government demonstrations since the Islamist-rooted leadership came to power.

Erdogan admitted that "there have been some mistakes, extremism in police response" and that legal action would be taken against officers who acted disproportionately.

He also vowed to keep a police presence in Taksim Square, saying, "Taksim cannot be a place where extremist groups run wild," reports the Associated Press.

There was no sign of Erdogan backing down from controversial plans to redevelop the iconic Taksim square -- the catalyst that had sparked the protests.

What began as an outcry against a local development project has snowballed into widespread anger against what critics say is the government's increasingly conservative and authoritarian agenda.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul said the protests had reached a "worrisome level" and called on authorities and the demonstrators to act with restraint.

"We have become one fist," 33-year-old Ataman Bet said as he swept up shattered glass outside his small coffee shop near Taksim.

He noted that the protestors stemmed from across the political spectrum, and even included Erdogan's supporters.

"People are angry, I am so proud of them," he said, calling the damage to his shop a "necessary sacrifice".

Interior Minister Guler told Anadolu on Saturday that authorities have detained 939 people across 30 provinces in connection with the protests.

Clashes raged during the night, with thousands of people marching through the city, some banging pots and pans as residents shouted support from the windows.

Others held up cans of beer in defiance of a recent law, supported by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), which prohibits the sale of alcohol at night and which was seen by critics as the latest sign of creeping conservatism.

"They want to turn this country into an Islamist state, they want to impose their vision all the while pretending to respect democracy," said one protester in Istanbul, declining to give her name.

The US State Department said it was concerned with the number of injuries in the clashes.

"We believe that Turkey's long-term stability, security and prosperity is best guaranteed by upholding the fundamental freedoms of expression, assembly and association, which is what it seems these individuals were doing," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told Reuters.

AFP contributed to this report.