Riot police re-entered Istanbul’s protest square on Tuesday, sending demonstrators scrambling with tear gas and water cannon in a fresh escalation of unrest after Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he would meet protest leaders.
Hundreds of police officers backed by armoured cars moved in on Taksim Square early morning in their first return to the site after pulling out on June 1, saying they wanted to remove makeshift barricades erected by protesters and clear the area of flags and banners.
The police action surprised protesters, hundreds of whom have been camping out in the adjoining Gezi Park, and came just hours after deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said Erdogan would meet the protest leaders on Wednesday, in his first major concession since the deadly unrest began nearly two weeks ago.
Despite the premier’s conciliatory gesture, the deputy warned: “Illegal demonstrations will not be allowed anymore in Turkey.”
Smoke filled the square as riot police fired tear gas and urged protesters to stay calm and return to Gezi Park, with some protesters throwing stones and incendiary devices in response.
Overnight thousands again took to the streets of Istanbul and the capital Ankara, defying Erdogan’s threat that they would “pay a price” for the unrelenting unrest, the biggest challenge yet to his Islamic-rooted government’s decade-long rule.
Riot police fired tear gas in the centre of Ankara to disperse hundreds of protesters, sending them scrambling, though protest crowds were smaller than at the weekend.