End protests, says defiant Erdogan
Turkey's prime minister took a combative stance on his closely watched return to the country, telling supporters who thronged to greet him that the protests that have swept the country must come to an end.
In the first extensive public show of support since anti-anti-government protests erupted last week, more than 10,000 supporters cheered Recep Tayyip Erdogan with rapturous applause outside an Istanbul airport.
Despite earlier comments that suggested he could be softening his stand, Erdogan delivered a fiery speech on his return from a four-day trip to North Africa. "These protests that are bordering on illegality must come to an end immediately," he said.
Erdogan's reaction has been seen as decisive in determining whether the demonstrations fizzle out or rage on. His tough tone could be an attempt not to appear weak to the base that has helped him win three landslide elections.
"Those who raise their hands against the police should have their hands broken," his supporters chanted. Rights groups say thousands of people have been injured in the demonstrations. Three people have died - two protesters and a policeman.
The protests have attracted tens of thousands of people from all walks of life who criticise Erdogan for what they say is an increasingly arrogant and autocratic nature - charges he rejects. "They say I am the prime minister of only 50%. It's not true. We have served the whole of the 76 million from the east to the west," he said at the airport, referring to his election win in 2011, when he took 50% of the vote.
Speaking before leaving Tunisia to fly back to Istanbul, Erdogan had attempted more of a balancing act, appearing to moderate his tone in an effort not to further inflame protesters.
Those comments don't appear to have swayed many of the thousands of protesters who thronged central Istanbul's Taksim Square for a sixth day Thursday. More than 10,000 others filled a busy street in a middle class area of Ankara. "I do not believe his sincerity," said protester Hazer Berk Buyukturca.
So far, 4,300 people have been hurt or sought medical attention for the effects of tear gas during the protests, the Turkish Human Rights Foundation said. One person is on life support in Ankara.
Interior Minister Muammer Guler said more than 500 police officers had been injured. A total of 746 protests had erupted, causing some 70 million Turkish Lira ($37 million) in damages, he said. Nearly 80 protesters were still hospitalized, and almost all detained protesters had been released. Officials said seven foreign nationals were detained during the protests: two Iranians, two French, an American, a Greek and a German.