Istanbul (CNN) -- Riot police fired massive clouds of tear gas across Taksim Square in Istanbul on Tuesday, sending protesters running.
Thick smoke blanketed the area -- some of it wafting into Gezi Park, the central point of the protests.
The government had
promised to allow protesters to remain in Gezi Park, and it was not
immediately clear whether authorities were firing into the park. But
authorities appeared to be lining up close to the park.
As the tear gas fog began
to lift, Taksim Square, the area in which tens of thousands of people
had been gathered -- and had been throwing rocks at riot police -- was
empty of protesters.
The assault -- which also
included authorities firing water cannons -- came shortly after police,
in heavy riot gear, withdrew from the park itself and moved to a nearby
It marked a return to the more heavy-handed tactics Turkish authorities used in the earlier days of the protests.
The protests at first had
focused on the environment -- opposition to a plan to build a mall at
the park -- but quickly grew into a battle against what demonstrators
call the government's increasingly authoritarian tactics.
Earlier Tuesday, police and protesters battled over a new barrier inside the square.
Protesters lobbed Molotov cocktails at armored vehicles and burned one. Police responded by spraying water cannons.
In a game of
cat-and-mouse, the demonstrators, using wooden boards as shields, would
pull back -- only to return, lobbing cocktails and firecrackers and
flashing "victory" signs.
"We will never allow people to push things to us, force things to us," Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told a gathering of his own Justice and Development Party in parliament. "And we will never force things either."
After touting a long
list of achievements in the country, which he credited to his
government, Erdogan turned to the street demonstrators in Istanbul, who
for more than a week have called for him to step down.
"They say the prime
minister is harsh. The prime minister is firm," Erdogan said of their
grievances against him. "I'm sorry," he answered them. "This prime
minister is not going to change."
morning, smoke from tear gas and fireworks wafted through the air at
Taksim Square as the armored vehicles shoved away makeshift barriers set
up by the demonstrators.
linked arms to form a human chain and prevent the police advance. But
when police deployed multiple canisters of tear gas, they scattered
"If you stop throwing
rocks, we will not use tear gas," the police told the raucous group over
loud speakers. "We don't want you to get hurt; please obey."
A show of force
The police movement came
one day before Erdogan planned to meet with protest organizers. The
presence appeared more to be a show of force at the square than an
effort to flush out protesters who have been camped there for days.
The demonstrations in
Turkey started as a small sit-in over plans to bulldoze Gezi Park -- the
last green space in central Istanbul -- and replace it with a shopping
But they have grown into a protest across the political spectrum.
Demonstrators have demanded Erdogan's resignation, accusing his government of creeping authoritarianism.
The result has been the
biggest challenge to Erdogan and his governing Justice and Development
Party during their decade in power.
Erdogan fights back
And the prime minister has fought back.
In speeches, Erdogan has said he has no tolerance for what he calls illegal demonstrations.
Sunday, he slammed protesters, warning that "even patience has an end."
He criticized protesters' tactics and challenged them to beat him at the ballot box.
"All they do is destroy.
They attacked public buildings; they burned public buildings. They
burned the cars of civilians," he said.
"Let's face off at the
ballot box in seven months. If you are saying democracy and freedom, if
you are saying rights and freedoms, you cannot achieve that with
violence. Only within the laws, you can achieve it."
Violence at past protests
Previous protests have met with a harsher police response, garnering broad criticism from inside and outside of Turkey.
Since the demonstrations
started on May 31, two protesters have been killed. One was hit by a
car in Istanbul; the other was shot in the head by unknown assailants in
Antakya, near the border with Syria.
A police captain died after falling from a bridge last week, the Adana governor's office said.
The Turkish Medical
Association said that more than 4,300 people were injured in clashes
last week. Only a few dozen suffered serious injuries.