ISTANBUL: Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was due back in Turkey on Thursday to face thousands of angry demonstrators calling for him to quit, as violence flared between the protesters and his supporters.
Away for four days on an official trip, Erdogan has defied the protesters who are against the conservative policies of his Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP), dismissing them as “extremists” and saying everything would calm down before he returned.
But a nationwide wave of protests have intensified, with doctors reporting 4,000 injured as police tried to quell the rallies in major cities with tear gas, pepper spray and water cannon.
Fresh clashes broke out in the capital Ankara overnight but Istanbul, where the unrest started on May 31, was relatively calm after six nights of unrest.
Crowds of protesters including striking workers marched on Wednesday in Istanbul and Ankara in a sea of red and white union flags, drumming and yelling for Erdogan to resign.
The prime minister was expected back on Thursday evening from Tunisia, the last stop on his four-day tour of North Africa, but the precise timing and airport of entry remained to be confirmed.
Opposition to him is intense, but the 59-year-old has won three elections in a row and gained almost 50 percent of votes in 2011.
The pro-AKP half of Turkey has remained largely silent in the past week of unrest, but CNN-Turk television reported on Thursday that several hundred people attacked a group of 25 youths who staged an anti-government protest in the Black Sea port of Rize.
In a hint that the wave of outrage could become two-sided, Deputy Prime Minister Huseyin Celik urged AKP supporters not to flock to the airport to welcome Erdogan back so as not to inflame tensions.