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Turkey's prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to convene party leadership in response to protests


Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan prepared to convene his party leadership on Saturday as anti-government protests enter their ninth day, with thousands of people still occupying Istanbul's central Taksim Square.

Erdogan, who has said the protests must end immediately, was to meet with top officials from his Justice and Development Party in Istanbul.

The protests began as a sit-in at a park in Taksim Square to prevent a redevelopment project that would replace the park with replica Ottoman barracks and a shopping mall. The mall idea seems to have fallen by the wayside, with Erdogan recently saying an opera house, theatre and possibly a museum would be built instead.

But violent intervention by police to eject the protesters on May 31 outraged many, and the protests spread to dozens of cities across Turkey.

Over the past nine days of demonstrations and frequent violent confrontations with police, three people have been killed — two protesters and a policeman — and thousands have been injured.

The protests have attracted a broad array of people angered by what they say are Erdogan's increasingly autocratic ways and his intervention in private lives. They point to attempts to curtail the selling and promotion of alcohol, his comments on how women should dress and statements that each woman should have at least three children.

A devout Muslim who says he is committed to upholding Turkey's secular tradition, Erdogan vehemently rejects charges of autocracy and points out that he enjoyed 50 per cent support in the last elections in 2011.

Over the past week, protesters — mainly young, secular and middle-class, but also including some religious Muslims who were formerly Erdogan supporters — have set up camp in Taksim Square and its Gezi Park. They have vowed to remain there until the development project for the area is cancelled — something Erdogan has shown no signs of being willing to do.

While Taksim Square has been generally quiet for the past few days, clashes have broken out in other parts of the city. Riot police used water cannon and tear gas against protesters who set up street barricades in the Sultangazi neighborhood on the outskirts of Istanbul overnight.

Witnesses said at least one person was injured, hit in the face by a tear gas canister. Early on Saturday, bloodstains could be seen on the ground amid debris from burned garbage bins and damaged shops.