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The Turkish government has announced it could use the army to end nearly three weeks of unrest by Gezi Park protesters in Istanbul and other cities.

The government would use “all its powers” and the armed forces if necessary, Deputy PM Bulent Arinc said on state-run television.

It is the first time the Islamist-rooted ruling party has raised the prospect of deploying the armed forces.

The issue is sensitive as the army is seen as a bastion of secularism.

PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan told hundreds of thousands of supporters at a rally in Istanbul on Sunday that the protesters were manipulated by “terrorists”.

Trade unions have called a strike to protest against the police crackdown on demonstrators which has seen some 500 people arrested.

Medical officials estimate that 5,000 people have been injured and at least four killed in the unrest.

The protests began on 28 May against a plan to redevelop Istanbul’s Gezi Park, on the city’s central Taksim Square, but it snowballed into nationwide anti-government protests after the perceived high-handed response of the authorities under their three-term prime minister.

The Turkish government has announced it could use the army to end nearly three weeks of unrest by Gezi Park protesters in Istanbul and other cities

The Turkish government has announced it could use the army to end nearly three weeks of unrest by Gezi Park protesters in Istanbul and other cities

Bulent Arinc told state-run TV that “the innocent demonstrations that began 20 days ago” had “completely ended”.

Any further demonstrations would be “immediately suppressed”, he added.

“Our police, our security forces are doing their jobs,” he said.

“If it’s not enough then the gendarmes will do their jobs. If that’s not enough… we could even use elements of the Turkish armed forces.”

The deployment of gendarmes – a military unit under control of the interior ministry in peacetime – shocked some protesters in Istanbul this weekend.

In a separate interview, Interior Minister Muammer Guler stressed that he had not called on the army to help police the protests.

But he argued that the use of the gendarmerie was “quite normal”, the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet reports.

Bloggers reacted with skepticism to news that the army might be deployed.

“And this coming from the same people who always claim they liberated Turkish democracy from army intervention,” one wrote.

In Turkey’s capital, Ankara, riot police could be seen facing off with trade union activists on Monday.

Police officers used megaphones to order workers to stop their march towards the central Kizilay district, reports Reuters news agency.

“Those of you on the streets must stop blocking the streets,” they said.

“Do not be provoked. The police will use force.”

Union marches were also being planned for Istanbul, where police evicted protesters from their camp in Gezi Park over the weekend.

The Confederation of Public Workers’ Unions (KESK) and Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions (DISK), along with three professional organizations, announced a one-day work stoppage to demand an end to “police violence”.

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Turkish protesters have demanded the sacking of police chiefs in Istanbul, Ankara and other cities over their forces’ violent responses to demonstrations.

They also rejected an apology by Deputy PM Bulent Arinc, saying his remarks “were reminiscent of a civil war”.

A group calling itself the Taksim Solidarity Platform (TSP) said it had handed a list of demands to Bulent Arinc.

The crackdown on protests over the redevelopment of a park in Istanbul last week triggered nationwide unrest.

Overnight, police in Istanbul again fired tear gas, water cannon and smoke grenades at protesters.

The demands presented by the Taksim Solidarity Platform on Wednesday included a ban on the use of tear gas, the release of detained protesters, and the scrapping of the plans for the redevelopment of Gezi Park, which is part of Istanbul’s Taksim Square.

“The steps the government takes will shape the events,” the TSP said after their meeting with Bulent Arinc on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, the deputy prime minister apologized to demonstrators who had been injured.

He said the original protests had been “just and legitimate” and that the “excessive use of force” by police had been wrong.

Turkish protesters have demanded the sacking of police chiefs in Istanbul, Ankara and other cities over their forces' violent responses to demonstrations

Turkish protesters have demanded the sacking of police chiefs in Istanbul, Ankara and other cities over their forces’ violent responses to demonstrations

Officials have confirmed that two people have been killed in the unrest.

One man died after being shot by an unidentified gunman in the southern city of Antakya. Another died after being hit by a car that ploughed into a crowd in Istanbul.

The Turkish Human Rights Association said more than 2,800 protesters had been injured across the country, many of them seriously, and that 791 had been detained, of whom “around 500” have since been released.

Bulent Arinc said that 244 police officers and 64 protesters had been injured, and more than 70 million Turkish lira ($37 million) of public damage had been caused.

Bulent Arinc’s conciliatory remarks contrasted with the tougher line taken by PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has said the protests are undemocratic.

The state-run Anatolia news agency earlier reported that police had arrested 25 people for posting “misinformation” on Twitter.

An official from the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), Ali Engin, told Anatolia they were being held for “calling on people to protest”.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday that Twitter was a “menace” being used to spread “lies”.

The original protests began in Gezi Park on May 28 but soon mushroomed, engulfing several cities and becoming more political.

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

The prime minister is still the most popular politician in the country, but he is discovering that a ruling style that his opponents say is autocratic has its limits.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey was seen as a runaway success by many in Europe and the Middle East; now it is looking tarnished, with deeper problems than its allies – and enemies – realized.

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Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc has apologized to protesters injured in demonstrations opposing the demolition of Istanbul’s Gezi Park.

The original protests over the redevelopment of Gezi Park were “just and legitimate”, he said, offering to meet the organizers.

Bulent Arinc called for the protests to end, saying they had been taken over by “terrorist elements”.

The protests have escalated into five days of unrest in cities across Turkey.

“The use of excessive force shown against the people who initially started this protest with the motive of protecting the environment was wrong. And it was unfair. So I apologize to those citizens,” Bulent Arinc said at a news conference in Ankara.

However, he added: “I do not think we need to apologize to those who create destruction of public property in the streets and who try to prevent the freedom of the people in the streets.”

PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan has taken a tougher line with protesters in his public comments, saying they are undemocratic.

He went ahead with a trip to Morocco and, speaking after his arrival there, insisted the situation was “calming down”.

“On my return from this visit, the problems will be solved,” he told reporters.

One union federation has begun a two-day strike in support of the protests.

The left-wing Kesk trade union confederation, representing some 240,000 workers, accused the government of committing “state terror”.

A second death in the protests has been confirmed by officials the southern city of Antakya.

Abdullah Comert, 22, a member of the youth wing of the opposition Republican People’s Party, was “seriously wounded… after gunfire from an unidentified person,” the governor’s office said, adding that he died later in hospital.

On Monday, the Turkish Doctors’ Union said 20-year-old Mehmet Ayvalitas was hit by a car on Sunday which ignored warnings to stop and ploughed into a crowd of protesters in the Mayis district of Istanbul.

Deputy PM Bulent Arinc has apologized to protesters injured in demonstrations opposing the demolition of Gezi Park

Deputy PM Bulent Arinc has apologized to protesters injured in demonstrations opposing the demolition of Gezi Park

Hundreds of protesters were reported to have gathered in the early hours of Tuesday in Ankara where they were police used more tear gas and water cannon.

Share values in Turkey were hit badly by the unrest on Monday, with the main share index falling by 10.47%, although it did recover some of the losses in early trading on Tuesday.

In a sign of continuing concern in Washington, US Secretary of State John Kerry spoke of “excessive use of force” by the police.

“We obviously hope that there will be a full investigation of those incidents and full restraint from the police force,” he said.

The protests began on May 28 over plans to redevelop Gezi Park near Taksim Square in Istanbul.

They soon mushroomed, engulfing several cities and including political demands.

Unrest was also reported on Sunday in the western coastal city of Izmir, Adana in the south and Gaziantep in the south-east.

Protesters accuse the Turkish government of becoming increasingly authoritarian.

They fear Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) is trying to impose conservative Islamic values on the officially secular country and infringe on their personal freedoms, correspondents say.

His opponents see moves such as recent restrictions on the sale of alcohol and legislation last year which allowed children to enter Islamic schools at a younger age as proof of this agenda.

An investigation into hundreds of coup plot suspects has also been seen as undermining the influence of the military, which has traditionally considered itself as guarantor of the country’s secular constitution.

However, supporters of Recep Tayyip Erdogan point to the fact that he has been elected with a convincing majority, and that many Turks still back him.

Gezi Park:

  • The demolition of Gezi Park – the issue which sparked Turkey protests – is a part of a wider urban redevelopment project in Istanbul
  • The government wants to pedestrianise and ease traffic around Taksim Square; Kalyon Group, a company which has close ties with the government, has been contracted to carry out the project
  • The project also includes building a shopping centre which PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan says would not be “a traditional mall”, but rather would include cultural centres, an opera house and a mosque
  • The plan also includes rebuilding an Ottoman-era military barracks near the site and demolishing the historic Ataturk Cultural Centre
  • The government has been making ambiguous and inconsistent statements about the project, which is causing concern among protesters who oppose replacing the green city park with grey concrete

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