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Tear gas used to end protests in Turkey
01:39 - Source: CNN

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Story highlights

Pots and pans echo, tear gas wafts over Istanbul streets

Clashes erupt in Ankara, including at an event to honor a slain protester

Erdogan supporters cheer for him at an Istanbul rally

Erdogan remains defiant of protest demands

Ankara, Turkey CNN  — 

A peaceful gathering to honor a slain protester turned into chaos Sunday in Ankara as Turkish riot police used water cannons and tear gas to try to disperse rock-throwing demonstrators.

In Istanbul, the sound of residents banging pots and pans together echoed down the streets as another face-off between police and anti-government protesters played out. The sound came from the buildings around Taksim Square and the adjacent Gezi Park, which authorities had cleared by force on Saturday.

Thousands of demonstrators calling for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s resignation attempted to return to the square and park Sunday, only to be pushed back by police. The neighborhood south of the park was filled with the smell of burning as police swept through the area, firing tear gas at knots of protesters in the streets.

At least 29 people were injured in Saturday night’s clashes, Istanbul Gov. Huseyin Avni Mutlu said. Police had warned demonstrators who have occupied Istanbul’s last remaining green space for more than two weeks to depart voluntarily or face being ejected.

While the anti-government protests are unlikely to threaten the rule of Erdogan, who has been one of Turkey’s most popular leaders and is credited with the country’s decade of economic growth, they are raising questions about what critics say is a growing authoritarian rule. For his part, Erdogan accuses outsiders of taking advantage of the protests at Gezi Park.

Earlier Sunday, thousands of Erdogan’s supporters gathered at a rally a few miles from Taksim Square. They waved flags and sang songs at a rally that was widely viewed as a re-election rally for the prime minister.

Erdogan, who has been defiant to protest demands, compared his supporters with the protesters: “Hundreds of thousands in here are not like the vandals with petrol-bombs in their hands.”

In Ankara, authorities had warned against a gathering to honor Ethem Sarisuluk, who was shot during protests two weeks ago.

The gathering took place under a heavy police presence around Kiziyali Square, a different part of the city from where Sarisuluk’s funeral procession was held.

At one point, Sarisuluk’s brother knelt in the middle of the road in an attempt to stop oncoming traffic, while police fired tear gas and water cannons at demonstrators. The protesters, in turn, threw rocks at police and put up makeshift barricades to block off streets.

The protests started at the end of May over the prime minister’s plan to turn Istanbul’s Gezi Park into a mall. They quickly turned into large anti-government demonstrations that included calls for political reforms.

Thugs or protesters?

The protest that began over Erdogan’s plan to turn the park into a mall quickly devolved into large anti-government demonstrations that have seen calls for political reforms.

“We have reached out with our hands,” he said. “However, some people returned their fists in response. Can you shake hands with those who reach out with a fist?”

And he ridiculed the protesters’ assertions that they are environmentalists, calling them “thugs” instead, and citing their honking of horns as evidence of their insincerity. “This is called noise pollution,” he said.

He accused demonstrators of inciting sectarian violence by attacking a woman who was wearing a headscarf, kicking her, dragging her on the ground and snatching away her head cover. He accused some demonstrators of having entered a mosque while wearing shoes, drunk alcohol there and written insulting slogans on the walls – acts forbidden by Muslims – but said authorities had been patient.

He said some demonstrators entered a mosque wearing shoes, drank alcohol there and wrote insulting slogans on the walls – acts forbidden by Muslims.

Erdogan accused social media for spreading misinformation, the national media of lying and the international media of displaying “every kind of hypocrisy” in its reporting, but he expressed gratitude for the crowd’s support.

Root of protests

The unrest began nearly 500 kilometers (311 miles) away, in Istanbul, nearly three weeks ago, when a small group of people turned out to protest government plans to bulldoze the city’s Gezi Park and to replace it with a shopping mall housed inside a replica of a 19th-century Ottoman barracks.

Protesters said the plans represented a creeping infringement on their rights in a secular society.

Turkey was founded after secularists in the early 20th century defeated Islamic Ottoman forces, and many modern-day secularists frown on Ottoman symbols.

The protests broadened into an outpouring in the square and throughout the country as security forces cracked down on demonstrators. The images, seen worldwide on social media and TV, sparked criticism around the world as well as in Turkey, a NATO member and a U.S. ally.

The unrest also signaled political danger for Erdogan, a populist and democratically elected politician serving his third term in office.

CNN’s Ian Lee and Antonia Mortensen reported from Ankara; Gul Tuysuz, Arwa Damon, Joe Duran and Karl Penhaul reported from Istanbul; Chelsea J. Carter and Josh Levs reported and wrote from Atlanta.