Erdogan Says Protests Won’t Halt Plans to Develop Square

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed to press ahead with plans to develop Istanbul’s Taksim square, defying the crowds who fought police after a rally to save the area turned into an anti-government protest.

Erdogan told Haberturk television in an interview today that plans to rebuild Ottoman army barracks in the square may also include a hotel, a mosque and an opera house.

Protesters, their ranks thinned by rain, made for Taksim square again following overnight violent clashes that left several injured and vehicles, including police cars, smashed.

“The incidents are ideological, they aren’t related to” trying to save the square, Erdogan said. “There will be more trees in Taksim when projects are completed.”

Those who clashed with police are “extremists,” Erdogan said, adding that more than 150 vehicles were damaged and four branches of the Justice and Development Party, from which he hails, were attacked.

The protests, which began over a government project to rebuild a replica of an Ottoman army barrack at a park near Taksim square, have spread to dozens of Turkish cities as police crackdowns fuel further anger.

“We will also build a mosque,” Erdogan said earlier today. “I’m not about to ask permission for that from Kilicdaroglu or a bunch of plunderers,” he said, referring to opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu of the Republican People’s Party.

Ankara Protest

Police used pepper gas and water to disperse about 1,000 protesters in the Turkish capital of Ankara today, NTV television reported. More than 90 protests took place in 48 cities, leaving 53 citizens and 26 police officers injured, Interior Minister Muammer Guler told reporters late yesterday.

Protesters in Istanbul said they’re reacting to what they say is government oppression, including limits on alcohol sales and the jailing of hundreds of military officers, academics, journalists and lawyers on charges of attempting to overthrow the government.

Some demonstrators used the wreckage of smashed vehicles to scrawl graffiti or seek shelter from the rain.

“The people will be taken into account,” Cemil Ardic, 30, said as he sat in the ruins of a police car in Taksim square today. Nearby, other protesters slept in an abandoned police minibus. “The prime minister was asking what we want. We want justice. We want democracy. We want our freedom.”

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