Anti-government protests in Turkey have stretched into a fifth day, with police and demonstrators clashing in both Istanbul and Ankara.
As in previous days, police used tear gas to try to break up groups of protesters in Istanbul, while the demonstrators used bricks and other materials to build barricades on some city streets.
A trade union confederation representing nearly 250,000 people is holding a two-day strike beginning Tuesday to protest what it calls a police crackdown on the demonstrators.
Thousands have marched in Ankara and other cities since Friday, accusing the prime minister of imposing Islamic views on a secular nation.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has dismissed the protests as bitterness over lost elections, and said Monday that calm was returning to the country. He says the protesters are walking arm-in-arm with terrorists and that they have no support among most Turks.
Turkish President Abdullah Gul is urging Turks to stay calm, but he defended their right to protest.
In Washington, White House spokesman Jay Carney said the United States is seriously concerned about reports of excessive force by police, and he urged all sides to avoid violence. He said the right to peaceful protest is fundamental to any democracy.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry offered a similar message supporting the rights of peaceful protesters.
“The United States supports full freedom of expression and assembly including the right of people to peaceful protest, because that is fundamental to any democracy. And we are concerned by the reports of excessive use of force by police. We obviously hope that there will a full investigation of those incidents and full restraint from the police force with respect to those kinds of incidents. And we urge all people involved – those demonstrating and expressing their freedom of expression and those in the government – to avoid any provocation of violence.”
The protests began Friday as a demonstration against plans to dig up a park in Ankara for new construction. But some of the marchers say they are very angry at Mr. Erdogan’s conservative Islamic-oriented government and what they see as its interference in the lives of citizens who do not share his religious views.
(Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Photo: World Economic Forum)