Uneasy calm after night of street battles

An uneasy calm returned to Istanbul's protest square last night (NZT) after clashes between riot police and protesters, as Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed zero tolerance for the demonstrations.

Hours earlier, Taksim Square had resembled a battle scene, swathed in acrid smoke as police dispersed tens of thousands of protesters chanting "Erdogan, resign!" and "Resistance!" on the worst night of violence in 12 days of unrest.

After riot police sent the large crowd scrambling with tear gas and jets of water, cat-and-mouse games with groups of demonstrators continued into the night.

Yesterday rubbish trucks were clearing up the empty gas canisters and the remains of broken barricades which had for more than a week blocked all access to the square and neighbouring Gezi Park, the original flashpoint for the protests.

There was a heavy police presence in the square while thousands of weary demonstrators took refuge in the park.

Fresh unrest also erupted in the capital, Ankara, with police using tear gas and water cannon against 5000 protesters near the US Embassy.

The unexpected police intervention in Istanbul's Taksim Square, which began early on Tuesday night (NZT), marked the first time officers had returned to the area since pulling out more than a week ago.

They fought hours-long battles with clusters of demonstrators, some of whom hurled fireworks and Molotov cocktails.

The police also brought in bulldozers to clear barricades.

The assault on Taksim Square surprised protesters, many of whom were dozing in the nearby park, because it came after Prime Minister Erdogan said he would meet with protest leaders today, his first major concession since the trouble began.

Four people have died and nearly 5000 demonstrators have been injured.

- AFP

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