Turkey's Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc has warned protesters that the government may deploy "elements of the armed forces" to help police end nearly three weeks of antigovernment protests.
Arinc's statement marks the first time that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Islamist-rooted government has threatened military force against the protesters.
It came amid a one-day general strike called by two major union federations to protest what they saw as harsh treatment of antigovernment protesters at Istanbul's Taksim Square.
The KESK and DISK trade union groups, who together represent hundreds of thousands of workers, called the strike to object to the violent police reaction to the protests and said they planned to hold demonstrations.
The unions say Erdogan’s government “launched an offensive against the nation” by forcibly evicting protesters from Taksim Square on June 15.
Turkish Interior Minister Muammer Guler, however, has warned that the strike is illegal and protesters will “bear the legal consequences” if they participate.
Union leaders have announced demonstrations for later on June 17, while other professional groups have also joined the strike.
The head of the Turkish Medical Association, Ahmet Ozdemir Aktan, said on June 16 that doctors are joining the strike because Erdogan is causing a dangerous split in Turkish society.
"Prime Minister Erdogan is provoking people to a civil war," he said. "But even people who vote for him did not buy this, so he is creating a regime of oppression."
The protests began on May 28 against a plan to cut down trees in Gezi Park on Taksim Square as part of a redevelopment project.
The demonstrations subsequently evolved into nationwide antigovernment protests after the authorities' heavy-handed reaction.
An estimated 5,000 people have been injured and at least four killed in the clashes so far.
The protests are also seen as a reaction to what many secularist Turks suspect is a hidden Islamist agenda of Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP).
Erdogan's government recently restricted sales of alcohol and banned alcohol advertising.
Erdogan has maintained his hard-line stance in the face of the protests. He told an Istanbul rally of more than 100,000 AKP supporters on June 16 that it was his "duty" to order police to "clean up" Gezi Park.
Erdogan also lashed out at the coverage of the protests in the foreign media.
On June 17, the OSCE's representative on freedom of the media, Dunja Mijatovic, warned in a statement that the recent detentions and intimidation of foreign and Turkish journalists "are endangering the right to free expression in Turkey."
Mijatovic also expressed concern about the brief detentions and mistreatment of several Turkish and international media workers who were covering the protests.
With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, "Hurriyet," and the BBC