Turkey: Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan agrees to meet Taksim Square protesters as deputy suggests occupation will be over by weekend

 

Turkey's prime minister will meet with a group of protesters occupying Istanbul's central Taksim Square this week, the deputy prime minister said on Monday, as the government sought a way out of the impasse that has led to hundreds of protests in dozens of cities.

But deputy prime minister Bulent Arinc warned the government would no longer tolerate "illegal acts," and implied that the occupation of Taksim and its accompanying Gezi Park would be over by the weekend.

"Illegal acts in Turkey from now won't be allowed and whatever needs to be done according to the law will be done," he said after a Cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. "All necessary actions against illegal acts will have been completed, and we will see this all together, by the weekend."

The protests appeared on the wane, with the smallest number of demonstrators in the past 11 days gathering in Taksim tonight. Protesters remain in Gezi Park.

Smaller protests occurred in Ankara too, with about 5,000 people demonstrating. Police there have used water cannon and tear gas to break up demonstrations almost every night.

Three people have died and more than 5,000 have been treated for injuries or the effects of gas during the protests. The government says 600 police officers have also been injured.

Erdogan will meet Gezi Park protesters on Wednesday, following a request by some of the protesters, Arinc said, but not at the square. With no clear leadership organising the Gezi occupation, it was unclear who the prime minister would be meeting.

The unrest was sparked by a violent police crackdown on a peaceful sit-in by protesters objecting to a project replacing the park with a replica Ottoman-era barracks.

The crackdown, in which protesters were confronted with tear gas and water cannon as they slept, galvanised tens of thousands of Turks. The demonstrations quickly turned into a denunciation of what many see as Erdogan's increasingly autocratic ways and attempts to impose Muslim values on a country with secular laws - charges the prime minister vehemently rejects.

A law restricting the sale of alcohol and banning its advertising - one of the things protesters had pointed to as evidence of decreasing social tolerance - was signed into law by President Abdullah Gul on Monday.

Video: Clashes in Turkey continue

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