Hundreds of police clad in riot gear forced through barricades in Istanbul’s central Taksim Square early this morning, pushing many of the protesters who had occupied the square for more than a week into a nearby park.

Police briefly fired tear gas canisters and rubber bullets in a big push at 9am local time, prompting many of the protesters to flee the square into Gezi Park, where some had been camping.

But there were running battles at one side of the square between police and activists, who threw fireworks, fire bombs and stones at police water cannon.

 
 
Hundreds of riot police poured into Taksim Square and secured the area for the first time since demonstrations started there

Police poured into Taksim Square and secured the area for the first time since demonstrations started there

 
A protester is on fire after a Molotov cocktail goes off during a clash with riot police in Istnabul this morning

A protester is on fire after a Molotov cocktail goes off during a clash with riot police in Istnabul this morning.

Police made frequent announcements through loudspeakers, asking the group to stop attacking police and saying they did not want to use tear gas, before then firing the tear gas.

People coming off the metro in the middle of the square ran for cover. Protesters offered them antacid solution in bottles of spray to help protect them from the gas.

One protester said he joined the protest in Gezi Park because his cousin was beaten by police during the initial clampdown that sparked the wider protests.

‘I’m here because I’m trying to defend my human rights,’ said the protester who identified himself as Kenan Agac. “I’m not against police but his morning they came and threw tear gas.’

‘If they had warned us, this wouldn’t have happened,’ he said in reference to the fighting with police a few yards away. ‘This was not necessary.’

Earlier, demonstrators had manned the barricades and prepared for a possible intervention when officers began massing in the area.

Today’s police push came on the 12th day of nationwide protests that were sparked by a violent police crackdown on May 31 on a peaceful sit-in at a park in the square by people unhappy about plans to replace the green space with a replica Ottoman-era barracks.

The protests grew into wider demonstrations against what many see as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian style of governing and his perceived attempts to impose a religious and conservative lifestyle in the country which has secular laws.

Erdogan, a devout Muslim, says he is committed to Turkey’s secular laws and denies charges of autocracy.

Erdogan has escalated tensions by vowing to press ahead with the Taksim redevelopment plans, dismissing the protesters as fringe extremists and the protests as undemocratic plots to topple his government which was elected with 50 per cent support.

He has called major pro-government rallies in Ankara and Istanbul this weekend to show that he too can get large numbers of his supporters out on the street.

Police began taking down large banners that had been hung by protesters on a large building on the edge of the square, replacing them with a Turkish flag and a banner with the picture of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the beloved founder of the secular republic 89 years ago after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.

Huseyin Avni Mutlu, the governor for Istanbul, said in a message issued on his Twitter account that the police were working to take down the banners hung on the building and a monument on the square.

He said the people occupying the park at the square would not be touched.

 
 
 

 

 
 
Police used water cannon and tear gas to disperse the crowds in the square and forced them into Gezi Park

Police used water cannon and tear gas to disperse the crowds in the square and forced them into Gezi Park

 

 
Protesters check for riot police from behind a barricade during violent clashes in Istanbul this morning

Protesters check for riot police from behind a barricade during violent clashes in Istanbul this morning

 
A protester kicks away a tear gas canister over ground soaked by water cannon in Istanbul this morning

A protester kicks away a tear gas canister over ground soaked by water cannon in Istanbul this morning

 
Plain clothes policemen wearing gas masks remove protesters' banners at Taksim Square in Istanbul this morning

Plain clothes policemen wearing gas masks remove protesters’ banners at Taksim Square in Istanbul today

 
A protester shouts as Turkish riot police fired water cannon and tear gas during heated clashes in Istanbul today

A protester shouts as Turkish riot police fired water cannon and tear gas during heated clashes in Istanbul

 
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Turkey’s biggest anti-government protests in decades erupted on May 31 after police broke up a peaceful sit-in

 

 
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Police in Ankara, where there have been smaller protests, used water cannon and tear gas on demonstrators

 
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Turkish riot police stand by a burning barricade during clashes with around 5,000 protesters in Ankara

 
In Ankara, a street food vendor wears goggles to protect himself from gear gas as riot police officers run past

In Ankara, a street food vendor wears goggles to protect himself from gear gas as riot police officers run past

Before the police action, the protests appeared to be diminishing, with the smallest number of demonstrators in the past 12 days gathering in Taksim last night. The protesters occupying Gezi Park had remained, however.

Smaller protests occurred in Ankara too, with about 5,000 people demonstrating. Police there have used water cannon and tear gas to break up demonstrations almost every night.

Three people have died and more than 5,000 have been treated for injuries or the effects of gas during the protests. The government says 600 police officers have also been injured.

Prime Minister Erdogan had said he would meet the Gezi Park protesters tomorrow, following a request by some of the protesters.

Three people have died and more than 5,000 have been treated for injuries or the effects of gas during the protests. The government says 600 police officers have also been injured.

 
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