Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday defended his order to forcibly evict thousands of anti-government protesters from Istanbul's Taksim Square, saying he had simply carried out his "duty" as the nation's leader.
In a speech to hundreds of thousands of supporters, Erdogan also railed against foreign media coverage and social media amid criticism of his government's handling of the protests, The Associated Press reports.
"I said we were at an end. That it was unbearable," he told a massive rally of supporters. "Yesterday the operation was carried out and it was cleaned up. It was my duty as prime minister."
On Saturday, riot police backed by armored vehicles sealed off Taksim Square and lobbed tear gas and fired water cannons to disperse a two-week-old demonstration that began as a protest against the development of the square's Gezi Park, but quickly blossomed into a larger show of people power against Erdogan's Islamic-leaning government. Although the focus of the protests has been in Istanbul, they have spread to other parts of the country, including the capital, Ankara.
The AP says that after the protesters in Istanbul were pushed out, crews worked through the night to remove any trace of the sit-in that had been the focus of the strongest challenge to Erdogan during his decade in office.
The AP said:
"Stone-throwing youths and riot police clashed in Istanbul's Sisli neighborhood next to the Taksim area. Television footage showed police deploying two water cannon trucks against the youths, standing near a flaming barricade blocking the street. Rocks littered the roadway.
Protesters set up barricades and plumes of tear gas rose in Istanbul's streets on Sunday after Turkish riot police rousted the group who had vowed to stay in Gezi Park despite Erdogan's warnings to leave."
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