ISTANBUL: Thousands of protesters celebrated on Sunday after police withdrew from Istanbul’s Taksim Square, the focal point of nationwide protests against Turkey’s Islamist-rooted government.
The government, while acknowledging some excesses by police in two days of clashes, called on the demonstrators to leave the streets after protests in 48 cities.
Rights groups denounced police violence, with Amnesty International saying that there had been two deaths. Turkey’s Western allies Britain and the United States have called for the government to exercise restraint.
According to official figures, the clashes over the last few days have left dozens injured. Amnesty put the figure in the hundreds and said that some protesters had been left blinded by the massive quantities of tear gas used by police.
Overnight Saturday, however, protesters in Taksim Square were celebrating their victory over the police, dancing and singing, with some even launching fireworks.
“Government, resign!” protesters shouted as the police retreated.
“We are here Tayyip, where are you?” they chanted, taunting Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
What began as an outcry against a local development project snowballed into a broader protest against what critics say is the government’s increasingly conservative and authoritarian agenda.
And since the first clashes on Friday, the unrest has spread to dozens of other cities across the country.
Speaking at a rally Saturday, Erdogan acknowledged:
“It is true that there have been some mistakes, extremism in police response.”
But he added, “I call on the protesters to stop their demonstrations immediately.”
Erdogan also vowed to push forward with controversial plans to redevelop the square—the issue that sparked the protests.