'Just a few looters’: Turkish PM Erdogan dismisses protests as thousands occupy Istanbul's Taksim Square


Turkey’s Prime Minister has rejected claims from protesters, who have taken to the streets across the country over the past two days, that he is an authoritarian leader, as thousands of people marched and reoccupied the centre of Istanbul.

Protesters returned to Istanbul's Taksim Square on Sunday, the site where a small protest over plans to redevelop a park spiralled into violent confrontations on Friday when police moved to evict the demonstrators.

The heavy-handed tactics of authorities sparked more than 90 demonstrations around the country on Friday and Saturday, officials said. More than 1,000 people have been injured in Istanbul and several hundred more in Ankara, according to medical staff.

In Taksim Square on Sunday afternoon, people were chanting slogans against Mr Erdogan and calling for him to resign. Undeterred, Mr Erdogan used a television interview to rebuke the demonstrators, who he dismissed as "a few looters".

"[They say] Tayyip Erdogan is a dictator. If they call one who serves the people a dictator, I cannot say anything," said the Prime Minister during a televised speech. Erdogan insisted the project to revamp Gezi Park would go on despite the protests. "We will build a mosque in Taksim and we do not need the permission of the CHP [Republican People's Party, the main opposition party in Parliament] or of a few bums to do it."

People have been protesting what they describe as the "authoritarian" attitude of the government and the heavy-handed way in which the police dealt with a peaceful sit-in in Gezi Park, next to Taksim. Mr Erdogan's government wants to redevelop the park to build a shopping centre. The confrontation between mostly peaceful protesters and the riot police became almost a pitched battle late on Friday and went on until late on Saturday, when the police finally withdrew from Taksim.

More than 1,000 people were detained, according to the Ministry of the Interior, and more than 100 wounded, according to medical staff, even though many protesters put this figure much higher.

Anger was still palpable on the streets of Istanbul yesterday, as many questioned whether the unrest felt by many across the country would translate into an anti-government movement.

"People were afraid of being beaten and of being gassed, but we have shown that we are not anymore," said Halil Sertbulut, a 37-year-old PhD candidate in political science, speaking in Taksim Square. "Finally the people of Turkey have become politically active", he added.

"[Erdogan] is behaving like a dictator, we want him to give up his decisions and to leave the government," said Zuhal Unsal, a 28-year-old nurse, while her group of friends nodded in approval. Another protester, Nedim Sarfati, a 22-year-old waiter, threatened "war in the streets" unless the Prime Minister resigned. "We need to show him our anger because he doesn't know," he said.