ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Riot police used tear gas to disperse pockets of anti-government demonstrators in several Turkish cities for a third night and Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan vowed to stamp out what he described as efforts to “create chaos”.
Officers backed by armored vehicles and water cannon played cat and mouse into the early hours of Friday with groups of youths in the streets of Kadikoy, on the Asian side of Istanbul, dismantling their makeshift barricades of garbage and rubble.
There were similar protests in Ankara and reports on social media of unrest in the Mediterranean coastal cities of Antalya and Antakya, but the troubles were not on the same scale as the weeks of rioting which rocked Turkey in June and July.
Protests have rumbled on intermittently since the summer, but intensified again this week after a 22-year old man, Ahmet Atakan, died during clashes with police in Antakya, near the border with Syria, early on Tuesday.
“We are protesting the death of Ahmet. We won’t stop the resistance until there’s justice. The government knows we won’t give up, that’s why the police are here,” said one protester in his early 20s in Kadikoy, declining to give his name.
Atakan died after falling from a building, but investigations continue into the circumstances of his death.
The summer protests presented one of the biggest challenges to Erdogan’s rule since his Islamist-rooted AK Party first came to power a decade ago, spiraling out of a demonstration in late May against plans to redevelop an Istanbul park into a broader show of defiance against his perceived authoritarianism.
The latest unrest comes just six months before local elections, the start of a voting cycle which also includes a presidential election next August - in which Erdogan is expected to run - and parliamentary polls in 2015.
“If there is illegal interference in other people’s areas of freedom we will, with all our security forces, exercise the authority granted by the law to the limit,” Erdogan said in a speech at the opening of a trade fair in Istanbul on Thursday.
“Efforts by a small minority to create chaos and cause damage in Turkey will never be successful.”
The riots in June and July were sparked by a heavy-handed police crackdown on demonstrators camped out at Istanbul’s Gezi Park - further evidence, Erdogan’s opponents said, of the government’s intolerance of dissent.
Four protesters and a police officer died as demonstrators, some armed with rocks, fireworks and Molotov cocktails, clashed with police firing tear gas, water cannon and pepper spray in the ensuing violence around the country.
While the summer of discontent may make the local elections next March more challenging for the AK Party, particularly in Istanbul, they are unlikely to inflict much of a deep change on the broader electoral map.
Nearly the whole country - apart from the Aegean coast, the mainly Kurdish southeast and a small region on the European continent - is AK Party orange and the opposition has so far failed to unite the diverse range of protesters - from nationalists to gay rights activists - in any coherent political movement.
Erdogan, who mobilized hundreds of thousands of supporters at rallies meant as a show of strength during the summer protests, has repeatedly said the public will give their answer to the demonstrators at the ballot box.
Additional reporting by Jonathon Burch in Ankara and Daren Butler in Istanbul; editing by Ralph Boulton; Writing by Nick Tattersall