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Istanbul Protesters Defy Erdogan's 'Final Warning' To Evacuate Park

Protesters sleep in Gezi Park in Istanbul's Taksim Square early on June 13.
Thousands of activists have been defying a warning from Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to evacuate a park in central Istanbul which has been the focal point of antigovernment protests for two weeks.

The activists reportedly were settling in for the night of June 13, as they prepared to camp out in Gezi Park despite Erdogan's warning earlier that day to leave.

Protester Tolga Tezmin told reporters that, even if police move in to disperse the people in the park, their protest will simply move another place.

"If they attack us and force us to leave, we will be in the other streets," she said. "And if they force us out of there, we will be in another district, then in another district. Istanbul never ends. We are always here."

Erdogan insisted in a televised speech on June 13 that police would no longer tolerate "lawbreakers" at the protest camp in the park.

"Nobody can invade the park," he said. "We have been patient until now, but now patience is running out. This is my final warning."

The protests began two weeks ago against a controversial construction project at the park, which is located at Istanbul's Taksim Square.

After a heavy-handed police crackdown on May 31, the demonstrations escalated into unprecedented protests against Erdogan's authoritarian style of ruling and his Islamist-rooted government -- spreading to the capital Ankara and other cities.

At least four people have been killed and more than 5,000 injured since in clashes between police and protesters across the country.

The European Union has called on Turkish authorities to show restraint when dealing with the protesters, who EU officials say are exercising their democratic right to demonstrate peacefully.

But Erdogan rejected such criticism on June 13.

"Turkey is not even a member of the European Union at the moment," he said. "We have a negotiation process going on. So how dare you make such a decision about me?"

Turkey's Andalou news agency reported late on June 13 that Erdogan had expressed willingness to meet with representatives of the protesters in Gezi Park.

He made a similar offer earlier this week, which resulted in a meeting between Erdogan and artists and members of the intelligentsia. But protesters say the people Erdogan met with did not represent them.

With reporting by AP and AFP
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