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Turkish Protesters Defy Erdogan

People on Istanbul's Taksim Square pass a banner calling on Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to resign.
Demonstrators in Istanbul are digging in for a weekend of antigovernment protests in defiance of their country's prime minister.

Protesters remained in Istanbul's Taksim Square on June 8, despite Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's demand for an immediate end to the unrest.

"As long as it goes on we are going to stay here," said one demonstrator. "I don't know how [many] months or years it will take but we are going to stay here."

The protests began just over a week ago as peaceful demonstrations against a redevelopment project that would have destroyed Gezi Park, in a corner of Taksim Square.

After a violent crackdown by police on May 31, they grew into an unprecedented display of public anger against the perceived authoritarianism of Erdogan and his Islamist-rooted Justice and Development (AK) party.

Over the past week, clashes between protesters and police in Istanbul, Ankara, and other cities have left three people dead and hundreds of injured.

Erdogan has said the protests are founded on a "campaign of lies" and called the demonstrators "looters." He has convened his party leadership on June 8 over the protests.

On June 7, Erdogan also said his Islamist-rooted government was open to "democratic demands," and he accused the European Union of double standards for criticizing his administration's response to the protests.

Earlier on the same day, EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele, at an international conference in Istanbul attended by Erdogan, had said that peaceful demonstrations were a "legitimate way" for groups to express their views in a democratic society.

Fuele also called for a "swift and transparent probe" into alleged police abuse against protesters.

"Excessive use of force by police against these demonstrations has no place in such a democracy," he said. "I'm happy that even the government admitted that. What is important now is not only to launch a swift and transparent investigation but to also to bring those responsible to account."

Erdogan responded that similar protests in EU countries would have met with a harsher police intervention.

"We mentioned several times and expressed our sadness about the intervention at the beginning of those events," he said. "We already said we will do what is necessary. Our Interior Ministry is continuing to work on that process. If anyone in a European country carried out these kinds of violent acts and destruction they would face a harsher intervention."

Turkey has long sought to join the 27-member European Union but efforts have stalled in recent years, with concerns over Turkey's human rights record one of the stumbling blocks.

Erdogan's AK party has ruled Turkey since 2002, winning more than 50 percent in elections in 2011.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and dpa

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