An anti-government protester during a clash with riot police in Izmir, where demonstrators attacked the offices of the ruling AKP. Photograph: Reuters
Turkey's president, Abdullah Gul, has defended the right of citizens to protest, as police used teargas for a fourth day to disperse demonstrations that grew out of a sit-in to prevent the uprooting of trees in Istanbul's main square.
"Democracy does not mean elections alone," he said on Monday. "There can be nothing more natural for the expression of various views, various situations and objections through a variety of ways, besides elections."
His comments stand in strong contrast to those of the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who again on Monday dismissed the street protests as being organised by extremists, a temporary blip that bore no resemblance to the Arab spring uprisings.
Demonstrations have gripped Turkey since Friday, triggered by anger over excessive police force against protesters holding a rally against the redevelopment of Taksim Square in Istanbul.The protests have spiralled into Turkey's biggest anti-government disturbances in years, and are seen as a display of frustration against Erdogan, who has appeared increasingly authoritarian and stands accused of meddling in all aspects of life.
Erdogan, who has been in power since 2003 having won three landslide elections, inflamed tensions by branding protesters "a bunch of looters" and by calling them a "minority" trying to force demands on his majority.
On Monday, he appeared defensive and angry when asked by reporters whether the government had understood the protesters' message or whether he would soften his tone towards them."What is the message? I want to hear it from you. What can a softened tone be like? Can you tell me?" Edogen said, before leaving on a planned four-day trip to Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia.
The demonstrators, mostly secular-minded Turks, took to the street airing frustrations at his abrasive and uncompromising style as well as the heavy-handed police response to protests. Some protesters clashed with police, but most demonstrated peacefully, chanting calls for Erdogan to resign. Those who did not take to the streets banged on pots and pans from windows and balconies.
He added: "The views that are well intentioned have been read, seen and noted and the messages have been received."
There was sporadic violence in areas close to Erdogan's offices in Istanbul and in Ankara. The Dogan news agency said police fired teargas at protesters in an area close to those offices. The protesters responded by hurling stones.
The agency said as many as 500 people were detained overnight on Monday after police clashed with more militant protesters and then moved in to break up a crowd of several thousands demonstrating peacefully. Turkey's Fox television reported that 300 others had been detained in a similar crackdown in Izmir, Turkey's third-largest city.Social media were awash with reports and videos of police abuse. Authorities have said police excesses would be investigated, but they appeared to continue unabated.
Fox showed footage of police telling a group sheltering by the side of a building to come out, reassuring that nothing would happen, then shooting a gas canister at one of them.A group of protesters took control of a large earth digger near the area and drove it towards police water cannon, Dogan news agency footage showed. Medics were seen tending to people injured in the skirmishes or affected by gas at a mosque close to the palace.
Erdogan described some of the protesters as "naive, decent and participating [in demonstrations] by following information on social media", but he claimed the protests were being organised by Turkey's opposition party and extremist groups.He also blamed "internal and external" groups bent on harming Turkey, adding that the country's intelligence service was working on identifying them and threatened to hit back at them."We shall be discussing these with them and will be following up, in fact we will also settle accounts with them," Erdogan said.
Turkey's main stock exchange has dropped 6.43 percentage points on opening on Monday, as investors worried about the protests' destabilising effect on the economy.Erdogan played down its significance, saying: "It's the stock market, it goes down and it goes up. It can't always be stable."
He also rejected any comparison to the Arab Spring uprisings."We already have a spring in Turkey," alluding to the nation's free elections. "But there are those who want to turn this spring into winter."Be calm, these will all pass," he said.
Huyu Erdogan anafanana sana na viongozi wa serikali dhaifu ya ccm iliyomo madarakani hapa kwetu. Kinachofurahisha hapa ni mtazamo wa Rais Gul ambaye anakubali uwepo wa mawazo tofauti. Kwa kuwa Uturuki wana serikali inayoongozwa na Waziri Mkuu (executive), basi Erdogan ndiye mwenye mamlaka ya kusimamia jeshi la polisi na vyombo vya dola. Tunapokaa na kufikiria kuhusu Katiba Mpya, hili ni somo zuri la kuona mipaka ya Rais na Waziri Mkuu, na ya kuwa sio lazima watu wote hata waliomo kwenye serikali kuwa wepesi kusema 'Ndio mzee' hata kama wanajua ya kuwa hali haiendi vizuri.