Tensions on Istanbul's Taksim Square Escalate
Turkish riot police have moved into Istanbul's Taksim Square, which has been occupied by anti-government protesters for close to two weeks.
The BBC reports that police, backed by armored vehicles and officers wearing helmets and carrying shields, fired teargas and used batons, rubber bullets, and water cannons, while some activists responded by throwing fireworks, fire bombs and stones.
The police actions have pushed many protesters from the square into adjoining Gezi Park, where many have been camping.
The action began in the wee hours Tuesday when police moved past barricades erected by protesters and began removing their banners.
Istanbul Governor Huseyin Avni Mutlu is quoted by the BBC in saying the police had no intention of breaking up the protest in Gezi Park.
"Our aim is to remove the signs and pictures on Ataturk statue and the Ataturk Cultural Centre. We have no other aim," he wrote on Twitter. "Gezi Park and Taksim will not be touched."
A similar message was broadcast by police via loudspeaker, but protesters in the square said they did not believe this.
The BBC's correspondent, who is at Taksim, says this was a deliberate show of force.
Turkey has seen tireless civil unrest sparked by a police crackdown on a local protest over Gezi.
Four people, including a police officer, are reported to have died since the protests began, with thousands more hurt and hundreds arrested. There are fears that the dead toll might be much higher than the official reports.
The government says more than 500 police officers are among the injured. There are reports that 6 policemen have committed suicide.
The protests began on May 28 over plans to redevelop Gezi Park.
It is the only remaining park in Taksim district, and it was supposed to make way for the rebuilding of an Ottoman era military barracks to house a large shopping center.
The rallies spread quickly, engulfing a number of major cities, and eventually turned into demonstrations against the authoritarian and Islamic-leaning policy of the Turkish government and of Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Erdogan softened his stance last Friday, in announcing he was open to all democratic demands, but would not tolerate violence. He has also agreed to meet the protest organizers on Wednesday.
It was reported meanwhile that Abdullah Gul, the President of Turkey, has signed the controversial law imposing serious restrictions on alcohol sales in the country.
The law is seen as one of the sparks of the protests. In May, the Turkish Parliament approved the ban on selling alcohol, between 10 pm and 6 am.
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