ISTANBUL — Hundreds of riot police overran improvised barricades at Istanbul’s Taksim Square on Tuesday, firing tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons in running battles with protesters who have been occupying the area for more than a week.
The police raid, which came on the 12th day of nationwide anti-government protests, sparked clashes with groups of demonstrators well into the afternoon. Many other protesters fled into the adjacent Gezi Park, where hundreds have been camping to stop developers from cutting down trees in the park.
As police moved in, bulldozers began demolishing the barricades and the makeshift shelters.
A peaceful demonstration against the park’s redevelopment has morphed into a test of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s authority and a rejection of what some see as his autocratic ways.
Erdogan, however, made it clear Tuesday that he had come to the end of his patience with the protesters, whom he accused of sullying Turkey’s image abroad.
“To those who … are at Taksim and elsewhere taking part in the demonstrations with sincere feelings, I call on you to leave those places and to end these incidents, and I send you my love. But for those who want to continue with the incidents I say: ‘It’s over.’ As of now we have no tolerance for them,” Erdogan said, speaking in the capital, Ankara, as the raid was taking place.
“Not only will we end the actions, we will be at the necks of the provocateurs and terrorists, and no one will get away with it,” he added.
The unrest — which has spread to 78 cities across Turkey — has been inspired in part by what some see as Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian style of governing and his perceived attempts to impose a religious and conservative lifestyle in a country with secular laws.
Erdogan, a devout Muslim, says he is committed to Turkey’s secular laws and denies charges of autocracy. Yet as he defended his tough stance, he gave critics little hope of a shift in his position.
The Turkish Human Rights Foundation on Tuesday raised the number of deaths in more than a week of protests to four. It said a man who had died of a heart attack days ago had been exposed to “too much” tear gas.