Turkey PM issues warning, meets with park protesters

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ISTANBUL — Turkey’s prime minister was meeting with anti-government protesters early Friday, hours after giving them his “final warning” to end their occupation of a central Istanbul park that has become a flashpoint for the largest political crisis of his 10-year rule.

If the talks break down, an eventual police intervention to clear Taksim Square’s Gezi Park of the thousands of protesters who have been camping there for two weeks seemed increasingly likely.

As Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan held talks in the capital, Ankara, Istanbul’s governor hosted a midnight meeting with any protesters who cared to join him at a cafe near Taksim Square — vowing to consult with them “until the morning if necessary” on finding a solution to the Gezi Park sit-in.

“I hope this meeting will be a message to youngsters from different ages in Gezi Park … we are trying to end this issue without (police) having to intervene,” Huseyin Avni Mutlu told reporters on the way in.

Even if a deal is reached, however, it does not guarantee the sit-in will end. Although the Taksim Solidarity group, two members of which were meeting with Erdogan, has emerged as the most high-profile from the occupation that began last month, it does not speak for all the thousands of people camping in the park. Many say they have no affiliation to any group or party.

In Gezi and on Taksim Square, thousands gathered in a peaceful, festive show of defiance, many dancing to tunes played on a grand piano delivered to the square on a truck. But in the capital, Ankara, a demonstration by hundreds of protesters rallying in sympathy with the Gezi Park activists turned violent, with police firing tear gas and rubber bullets.

Erdogan has maintained a hard line against the demonstrations since they began two weeks ago and spread across the country, angrily denouncing the protesters as looters and vandals. He has said the unrest was instigated by a variety of interests, including foreign media and interest rate lobbies intent on destroying Turkey’s international reputation and halting its economic growth.

Five people, including a police officer, have died and over 5,000 protesters and 600 police have been reported injured in clashes.

On Thursday, Erdogan gave his starkest warning yet that the protests, which have trained an unflattering spotlight on his Islamic-rooted government, must end.

“We have arrived at the end of our patience,” Erdogan said in Ankara.

“I am giving you my final warning.”

Earlier this week, riot police armed with tear gas, water cannon and plastic bullets moved into the park’s adjacent Taksim Square, which had also been under occupation, and cleared it of protesters and banners in a daylong operation as groups of demonstrators fought back with stones, firebombs, bottles and fireworks.

Although the vast majority of the thousands camping in the park have been peaceful, police also fired dozens of rounds of tear gas in among the tents.