ISTANBUL - Facing one of the biggest challenges in a decade in power, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan called on Saturday, June 1, for an immediate end to the anti-government demonstrations raging in Istanbul and key Turkish cities for the second day.
I call on the protesters to stop their demonstrations immediately, Erdogan said in a televised speech cited by Agence France Presse (AFP).
Police were there yesterday, they'll be on duty today and also tomorrow because Taksim Square cannot be an area where extremists are running wild.
Going on for the second day, thousands of angry protesters rallied in Istanbul, Ankara, the western cities of Izmir and Mugla and Antalya in the south.
The unrest was triggered by government plans for a replica Ottoman-era barracks housing shops or apartments in Istanbul's Taksim Square, long a venue for political protest.
The demonstration at Taksim's Gezi Park started late on Monday after trees were torn up to make way for the redevelopment. Erdogan vowed to push ahead with the plans and said the issue was being used as an excuse to stoke tensions.
The unrest turned into anti-government demonstrations after police on Friday moved into Taksim to break up a protest against the Taksim project.
Clashes raged during the night, as thousands of people marched through the city, some banging pots and pans as residents shouted support from the windows.
In a defiant speech to the exporters' union, Erdogan insisted the project would go ahead, and that the historic Ottoman era military barracks, torn down by Ataturk, would be rebuilt on the site as planned.
Referring to the protesters' fears that the site will actually become a shopping mall, he said one "might be built on the ground floor or a city museum. We haven't given our final decision yet".
On Saturday, police fired tear gas at protesters gathering in Taksim Square, raging the demonstrations that have left dozens of people injured.
Police also blocked a group of demonstrators from marching to parliament and the prime minister's office in Ankara.
Holding up cans of beer, other protesters expressed a broader show of defiance against Erdogan and his Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP).
They want to turn this country into an Islamist state, they want to impose their vision all the while pretending to respect democracy, one woman protestor in Istanbul told AFP, declining to give her name.
The protester was referring to a law approved last week by Turkey's parliament which restricted the sale and consumption of alcoholic drinks between 22:00 and 06:00.
Kemal Kilicdaroglu, a leader of the main opposition the Republican People's Party (CHP) said, We want freedoms and democracy in our country.
Erdogan, who has been in power since 2002, has been facing criticism from secularists who refused a so called religiously conservative government's meddling in private life in the secular republic.
His party, however, is riding on a wave of popularity that it has earned due to success of its economic policies, turning Turkey from one of the weakest economies in Europe into becoming the 15th largest economy in the world.
Over the past year, other restrictions on Alcohol consumptions were applied, including decisions by an increasing number of municipalities to impose restrictions on drinking in public as well as on national advertising.
Most recently, it banned alcohol sales on all domestic and some international flights of its national carrier.
Erdogan's government has imposed some of the highest consumption taxes on alcohol in the world.
The measures have succeeded in decreasing percentage of alcohol consumption, reaching only six percent of Turkish households consumed alcoholic drinks in 2008, down from eight percent in 2003, according to the Betam research centre at Istanbul's Bahcesehir University.
Approximately 99 percent of Turkey's population are Muslim, mostly Sunnis.
Islam takes an uncompromising stand in prohibiting intoxicants. It forbids Muslims from drinking or even selling alcohol.
The general rule in Islam is that any beverage that get people intoxicated when taken is unlawful, both in small and large quantities, whether it is alcohol, drugs, fermented raisin drink or something else.