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Turkey protests: New rally in Istanbul’s Taksim Square

Thousands of anti-government protesters are gathering in Istanbul’s Taksim Square, ahead of the return of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan from a North African tour.

Protesters are calling for Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s resignation, correspondents in the square say.

Earlier, Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed to press ahead with controversial plans to redevelop a park in Istanbul.

A local environmental protest against the proposal spiraled into nationwide political unrest seven days ago.

The original sit-in at Gezi Park mushroomed after police cracked down on activists defending the green space near Istanbul’s Taksim Square from developers.

For days, demonstrators in Istanbul, Ankara and other cities have been calling for the three-term prime minister to quit.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan is due to return from Tunisia on Thursday evening after a four-day visit to North Africa.

Speaking in Tunis earlier, he acknowledged that police had used “excessive force” against activists at the original sit-in. But he said that a small group was now manipulating what had started as an environmental protest.

“Among the protesters, there are extremists, some of them implicated in terrorism,” he told reporters.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan also defended the urban development plan for Gezi Park.

“The project respects [Turkey’s] history, culture and environment,” he said.

“What we are doing is to protect the rights of the majority and to preserve the beauty of Istanbul.”

Thousands of anti-government protesters are gathering in Istanbul's Taksim Square, ahead of the return of PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan from a North African tour

Thousands of anti-government protesters are gathering in Istanbul’s Taksim Square, ahead of the return of PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan from a North African tour

The economic response to the remarks was swift, with the stock market dropping nearly 5% after the prime minister’s announcement.

Since the protests erupted, four people including a police officer are reported to have died, thousands have been injured and hundreds arrested in the unrest.

Among those detained were seven foreigners from France, Germany, Greece, Iran and the US, Turkey confirmed on Thursday.

Protesters accuse Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government of becoming increasingly authoritarian and trying to impose conservative Islamic values on a secular state.

His ruling Justice and Development Party has governed Turkey since 2002, winning a series of election victories.

Earlier this week, Deputy PM Bulent Arinc apologized for police violence in the original protest at Gezi Park.

He also met representatives from a protest group calling itself the Taksim Solidarity Platform (TSP).

The collective presented a list of demands, which included the dismissal of police chiefs, a ban on the use of tear gas, the release of detained protesters, the sacking of Istanbul’s governor, and the scrapping of the plans for the redevelopment of Gezi Park.

Opponents of the plan say the park is one of the few green areas left in central Istanbul.

But Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly said the project would go ahead, and that the historic Ottoman-era military barracks would be rebuilt on the site as planned.

The protests come as Turkey prepares to host an international conference focused on its relations with the EU on Friday.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan is to make the opening speech at the event, which will be attended by the EU’s Commissioner for enlargement, Stefan Rule, British ex-foreign minister Jack Straw and representatives from other member states.

France earlier condemned Turkey’s heavy-handed police response to the protests.

Negotiations with the EU have stalled in recent years because of concerns over freedom of speech, treatment of religious minorities, women’s and children’s rights, civilian control of the military and long-running tensions with Cyprus.

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Diane is a perfectionist. She enjoys searching the internet for the hottest events from around the world and writing an article about it. The details matter to her, so she makes sure the information is easy to read and understand. She likes traveling and history, especially ancient history. Being a very sociable person she has a blast having barbeque with family and friends.