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Originally published Friday, May 31, 2013 at 6:08 PM

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Turkish police raid sit-in against tree removal

Police took action on the fourth day of a sit-in against a government plan to revamp Istanbul’s Taksim Square.

The Associated Press

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ISTANBUL — Turkish riot police used tear gas and water cannons Friday to end a peaceful sit-in by hundreds of people trying to prevent trees from being uprooted in an Istanbul park.

The dawn raid ignited a furious anti-government protest that took over the city’s main square and spread to other cities.

In a victory for the protesters, an Istanbul court later ordered the temporary suspension of the project to uproot the trees.

But demonstrators nationwide kept up protests denouncing what they called a heavy-handed crackdown and a government seen as displaying increasingly authoritarian tendencies.

Police took action on the fourth day of the sit-in against a government plan to revamp Taksim Square. Officers clashed with demonstrators in surrounding areas, firing tear-gas canisters and pushing people back with water cannons. Smoke from the gas filled the square and scattered protests continued into the night.

In solidarity with protesters in Istanbul, some 5,000 people gathered at a park in the capital, Ankara, swelling into a busy street nearby. They chanted anti-government slogans and called on Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to resign. Police used tear gas to push back a group trying to march toward the Parliament building.

Protests were also held in a dozen other cities, including one that drew thousands in Turkey’s third-largest city of Izmir, reports said.

The Istanbul protesters were demanding the square’s Gezi Park be protected from plans that include the construction of a shopping mall. Many also aired grievances against Erdogan, whose style has become increasingly uncompromising during his government’s third successive term.

Last week, the government enacted a law restricting the sale and advertising of alcohol, a move that has alarmed secular Turks.

This week, the government went ahead with a groundbreaking ceremony for construction of a disputed third bridge across the Bosporus that some say will destroy the few remaining green areas of the city.

It also named the bridge after a controversial Ottoman sultan believed to have ordered a massacre of a minority Shiite Muslim group, instead of choosing a more unifying figure.

Protesters in Gezi Park held up a large poster Friday with a caricature depicting Erdogan as an Ottoman sultan with a caption that read: “The people won’t yield to you.”

Erdogan’s Islamic-rooted, conservative government has a strong support base in the mainly Muslim but secular country, and many protesters appeared to be from more secular-leaning sections of society.

In Ankara, demonstrators held up posters reading: “Don’t Interfere in my Lifestyle” and “Resist the Dictator.”

Many drank beer and other alcoholic beverages during the protest in defiance of the alcohol restrictions. They lined the pavement with empty beer and liquor bottles and cans.

Erdogan this week dismissed the Istanbul protesters’ demands, saying the government would go ahead with the renovation plans “no matter what they do.” The forestry minister said more trees would be planted than those uprooted at Gezi.

In Istanbul, several protesters were injured when a wall they climbed on collapsed during a police chase, and at least two people — including a journalist — were hit in the head by tear-gas canisters.

Two opposition legislators were among several hospitalized after being affected by the gas, the private Dogan news agency reported.

Istanbul Gov. Huseyin Avni Mutlu said 12 people were treated in hospitals for injuries and least 13 people were detained.

The media-rights group Reporters without Borders said the injured journalist, Ahmet Sik, and others were deliberately targeted by police and urged Turkish authorities to halt the “excessive” use of force. A Reuters photographer was also injured.

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