VIOLENCE has flared in Istanbul between a group of demonstrators and police on the fourth day of protests set off by a brutal police crackdown of a peaceful environmental protest.
Police fired tear gas at the group in an area close to Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Istanbul offices this morning.
The protesters responded by hurling stones.
It's believed as many as 500 protesters had been detained overnight after police broke up a protests by several thousands of people in the capital Ankara.
The demonstrations that grew out of anger over excessive police force have spiralled into Turkey's biggest anti-government demonstrations in years, challenging Erdogan's power.
Prime Minister Erdogan blamed the main secular opposition party for inciting the crowds, whom he called "a few looters".
He said the protests were aimed at depriving his ruling AK Party of votes as elections begin next year.
The unrest erupted on Friday when trees were torn down at a park in Istanbul's main Taksim Square under government plans to redevelop the area, but widened into a broad show of defiance against the Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP).
Mr Erdogan said the plans to remake the square, long an iconic rallying point for mass demonstrations, would go ahead, including the construction of a new mosque and the rebuilding of a replica Ottoman-era barracks. He said the protests had nothing to do with the plans.
"It's entirely ideological. The main opposition party which is making resistance calls on every street is provoking these protests... This is about my ruling party, myself and the looming municipality elections in Istanbul and efforts to make the AK Party lose votes here."
The main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) denied orchestrating the unrest, blaming Mr Erdogan's policies.
"What Erdogan has to do is not to blame CHP but draw the necessary lessons from what happened," senior party member Mehmet Akif Hamzacebi explained.