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Protests

Turkey PM rules out early elections as protesters clash with police

Turkish police have fired tear gas and water cannon at thousands of protesters defying government calls for an end to demonstrations. Earlier Turkey's prime minister ruled out the prospect of calling early elections.

Tens of thousands of anti-government protesters took to the streets across Turkey on Saturday, in a show of defiance against the Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's call a day earlier for an immediate end to the 9-day show of unrest.

In the capital Ankara riot police used tear gas and water cannon to disperse some 5,000 protesters blocking roads and lighting bonfires in the central Kizilay Square.

More clashes break out in Turkey

In Istanbul, meanwhile, thousands of fans from rival football clubs Besiktas, Galatasaray and Fenerbahce gathered in the city's Taksim Square in a rare show of unity. Some set off red flares to loud cheers from the crowd, while others chanted "Tayyip resign!" and "arm in arm against fascism."

Taksim Square has been the epicenter of nationwide unrest which has left three people dead and injured thousands more. Police are no longer stationed at the site where protesters built barricades, vandalized vehicles and ripped up street signs and paving stones.

Protests erupted last Friday when police cracked down on a group of activists opposed to plans to develop Gezi Park, a leafy area in central Istanbul. Anger at the heavy-handed police response has brought tens of thousands of anti-government protesters to the streets across the country.

Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) are accused of being increasingly authoritarian and attempting to impose conservative Islamic values.

Erdogan: no snap election

Speaking after a meeting between the premier and top AKP officials on Saturday, Deputy Prime Minister Huseyin Celik downplayed the rallies, ruling out speculation that Erdogan may be forced to call early elections.

"The process is under the control of the government, and is becoming normalized and increasingly in line with common sense," he told reporters in Istanbul.

"The government is running like clockwork. There is nothing that necessitates early elections," Celik said. "The world is dealing with an economic crisis and things are going well in Turkey. Elections are not held because people are marching on the streets, he added."

He insisted that local and presidential elections would be held as planned in 2014, and a general election would take place the year after.

The AKP announced Saturday that it would hold its first campaign rally in the capital on June 15, an event tipped to attract tens of thousands of government supporters.

International concern

The international community has accused Turkish police of responding to the protests with unnecessary violence.

On Saturday thousands took to the streets of Germany's capital Berlin, which is home to a large Turkish community. Protesters waved red Turkish flags and chanted "Occupy Gezi."

In an interview with Germany's Welt am Sonntag newspaper, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle called on Erdogan to ease tensions.

"Turkey is a democracy and it will prove its inner disposition in the face of these protests," Westerwelle said.

"Prime Minister Erdogan has a special responsibility to calm the situation and he has to be aware of that," he added.

Meanwhile the EU has called for a "swift probe" into the unrest. Erdogan responded Friday saying that demonstrators involved in a similar protest in any other European country would "face a harder response."

ccp/ch (AFP, Reuters)

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