Istanbul: Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan today told a crowd of more than 100,000 supporters it was his "duty" to order a crackdown on an Istanbul protest park, as police and anti-government demonstrators faced off in fresh clashes.
A day after riot police dislodged thousands of protesters occupying Gezi Park, officers in the area were still firing tear gas and jets of water at pockets of protesters determined to regroup.
Some 10 kilometres away, in a much larger park, Erdogan launched a show of strength for supporters of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), drawing the largest crowd yet since the demos against his government erupted more than two weeks ago.
Addressing the cheering sea of people, many of whom wore white AKP caps, a combative Erdogan said protesters had forced his hand by defying repeated warnings to clear out of the park.
"I said we were at an end. That it was unbearable. Yesterday the operation was carried out and it was cleaned up," Erdogan said. "It was my duty as prime minister."
The violence sparked by the Gezi Park evacuation marked a major escalation in mass unrest that has posed the biggest challenge yet to the Islamic-rooted government`s decade-long rule.
Two of Turkey`s main trade union federations, KESK and DISK, announced they would go on strike tomorrow in protest at the police clashes overnight.
"Our demand is for police violence to end immediately," KESK spokesman Baki Cinar told a news agency.
The unions represent hundreds of thousand of workers and the stoppage is likely to affect schools, hospitals and public offices across the country.
The police intervention in Gezi Park came after Erdogan issued a final warning to protesters during a fiery speech at an election rally in the capital Ankara yesterday.
Two hours later, officers with gas masks and riot shields stormed the patch of green. Thousands of campers scrambled to escape clouds of acrid tear gas, clearing the site within minutes and leaving a trail of empty tents in their wake.