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Turkey: After four days away, Prime Minister returns home to protests

Two are dead and thousands are reported injured after six days of clashes between those protesting against PM Erdogan and security forces.

Tunisian Prime Minister Ali Larayed, right, greets his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan, centre, at the Airport of Tunis Carthage, Tunis yesterday
Tunisian Prime Minister Ali Larayed, right, greets his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan, centre, at the Airport of Tunis Carthage, Tunis yesterday
Image: Hsaaene dridi/AP/Press Association Images

PRIME MINISTER RECEP Tayyip Erdogan is due back in Turkey today to face thousands of angry demonstrators calling for him to quit, as violence flared between the protesters and his supporters.

Away for four days on an official trip, Erdogan has defied the protesters who are against the conservative policies of his Islamic-rooted AKP party, dismissing them as “extremists” and saying everything would calm down before he returned.

But a nationwide wave of protests have intensified, with doctors reporting 4,000 injured as police tried to quell the rallies in major cities with tear gas, pepper spray and water cannon.

Fresh clashes broke out in the capital Ankara overnight but Istanbul, where the unrest started on May 31, was relatively calm after six nights of unrest.

Crowds of protesters including striking workers marched on Wednesday in Istanbul and Ankara in a sea of red and white union flags, drumming and yelling for Erdogan to resign.

The prime minister is due back from Tunisia, the last stop on his four-day tour of North Africa, but the precise timing and airport of entry remained to be confirmed.

Intense opposition

Opposition to him is intense, but the 59-year-old has won three elections in a row and gained almost 50 percent of votes in 2011, having presided over strong economic growth in recent years.

The pro-AKP half of Turkey has remained largely silent in the past week of unrest, but CNN-Turk television reported on Thursday that several hundred people attacked a group of 25 youths who staged an anti-government protest in the Black Sea port of Rize.

In a hint that the wave of outrage could become two-sided, deputy prime minister Huseyin Celik urged AKP supporters not to flock to the airport to welcome Erdogan back so as not to inflame tensions.

“The prime minister does not need a show of power,” he told a local television channel.

But Erdogan said last Sunday: “If they want to organise gatherings, if it’s a social movement, well, when they gather 20 people I’ll bring 200,000. When 100,000 of them meet, I’ll mobilise a million supporters of my party.”

In Rize some of the anti-government protesters were reportedly hospitalised, but their condition was unclear.

A heavy-handed response to a peaceful demonstration in Istanbul last week sparked nationwide protests denouncing Erdogan, in power at the head of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) since 2002.

Two people have been killed in the seven days of unrest nationwide, according to doctors and officials. The national doctors’ union has said more than 4,000 had been injured, 43 of them seriously. The latest government estimate stands at about 300 injured.

- © AFP, 2013

Column: In Istanbul, citizens remain united and committed to peaceful protest

Explainer: What is going on in Turkey?

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