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Protests

Tear gas in Turkey after government apology over protest crackdown

Turkish police have used tear gas and water cannons to disperse protesters gathered in Istanbul for a fifth night. It follows a government apology for "excessive violence" against protesters during the deadly unrest.

The tear gas and water cannons were deployed late on Tuesday after hundreds of protesters defied police warnings to disperse. According to news agency AP the demonstrators had been throwing bricks at officers near the German Consulate in Istanbul.

Water cannons were also fired in the capital Ankara against anti-government protesters gathered outside the prime minister's office.

Protests first erupted on Friday after police fired tear gas at environmental protesters staging a sit-in over plans to remove 600 trees and build a shopping mall on an area of parkland in Istanbul's main Taksim Square.

The incident prompted clashes in several major cities with tens of thousands of people joining five days of anti-government rallies.

Two people have been killed during the unrest and human rights groups say at least 1,300 people have been injured, although the government puts the figure at around 300. Several thousand have also been detained.

Turkey has faced international condemnation over its violent crackdown, with police accused of using excessive force to break up protests.

Government expresses regret

Speaking on behalf of the Turkish government on Tuesday, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said he regretted "the excessive violence that was used in the first instance against those who were behaving with respect for the environment."

Arinc told a news conference in the capital Ankara that it was "wrong and unfair. I apologize to those citizens."

"The government has learnt its lesson from what happened," he added. "We do not have the right and cannot afford to ignore people. Democracies cannot exist without opposition."

But he also said that the government didn't owe an apology to "those who have caused damage in the streets and tried to hinder people's freedom."

The comments stand in stark contrast to Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's insistence on Monday that the protesters were "extremists" and "vandals."

Arinc's statement was met with praise from the United States on Tuesday, which alongside the United Nations and several other western nations, has expressed concern over the reports of violence.

"We welcome the deputy prime minister's comments apologizing for excessive force, and we continue to welcome calls for these events to be investigated," White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

The main public sector union federation, the leftist KESK, which represents 240,000 members, launched a two-day strike on Tuesday, originally called over workers' rights, to protest at the police crackdown.

Arinc is set to meet a group of activists, architects and academicians on Wednesday who are uniting to protect Taksim Square in a further effort to ease tensions.

ccp/jm (AFP, AP, Reuters)