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Face off

Anti-government protesters shout slogans as they stand on barricades in IstanbulANKARA — Turkish riot police backed by water cannon faced off with around 1,000 trade union workers in the capital Ankara today, after a weekend of some of the worst clashes since anti-government protests erupted late last month.

Police officers used megaphones to order workers to stop their march towards Ankara’s central Kizilay district.

“Those of you on the streets must stop blocking the streets. Do not be provoked. The police will use force,” they shouted, as several water cannon were positioned a few hundred metres away.

Further marches by striking workers were planned in Istanbul today, despite government warnings that demonstrations would not be tolerated.

“There is an attempt to bring people to the streets through strikes and work stoppages. These will not be allowed,” Interior Minister Muammer Guler told reporters.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan is seeking to restore calm after weekend unrest during which police fired teargas and water cannon to clear thousands of protesters from around Taksim Square in Istanbul, the focal point of the demonstrations.

Police detained 441 people in connection with clashes in Istanbul on Sunday and 56 in the capital Ankara. As violence across several cities entered its 18th day, at least four people have been killed and around 5,000 injured, according to the Turkish Medical Association.

What began as a small demonstration by environmentalists upset at government plans to build on a public park adjoining Taksim has grown into a movement against Erdogan, who opponents say is overbearing and meddles too much in their personal lives.

“We are tired of protesting, we don’t want to keep doing this, we want to return to our lives – but we are tired of this oppressive government constantly interfering,” said Mahmet Cam, a teacher among the striking workers in Ankara.

There were also clashes in the city of Eskisehir, around 200 kilometres southeast of Istanbul, where police used teargas and water cannon to disperse crowds and cleared away hundreds of tents, the Dogan news agency reported.

European Union enlargement commissioner Stefan Fuele expressed concern about developments in Turkey, whose negotiations to join the bloc have sputtered partly over worries about its record on human rights and freedom of speech. (Reuters)

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