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Protesters, Turkish police clash in Taksim Square in Istanbul

  • Protesters run to avoid the tear gas as others set fire a barricade during clashes at the Taksim Square in Istanbul on Tuesday, June 11, 2013. Riot police are re-entering Istanbul’s Taksim Square after defiant protesters swarmed back in by the thousands. Massive plumes of tear gas billowed upward, and police fired water cannons Tuesday night. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

    Protesters run to avoid the tear gas as others set fire a barricade during clashes at the Taksim Square in Istanbul on Tuesday, June 11, 2013. Riot police are re-entering Istanbul’s Taksim Square after defiant protesters swarmed back in by the thousands. Massive plumes of tear gas billowed upward, and police fired water cannons Tuesday night. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

  • A man is evacuated on a stretcher after riot police flooded the Gazi Park with tear gas during clashes at the Taksim Square in Istanbul Tuesday, June 11, 2013. Riot police are re-entering Istanbul’s Taksim Square after defiant protesters swarmed back in by the thousands. Massive plumes of tear gas billowed upward, and police fired water cannons Tuesday night. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

    A man is evacuated on a stretcher after riot police flooded the Gazi Park with tear gas during clashes at the Taksim Square in Istanbul Tuesday, June 11, 2013. Riot police are re-entering Istanbul’s Taksim Square after defiant protesters swarmed back in by the thousands. Massive plumes of tear gas billowed upward, and police fired water cannons Tuesday night. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

  • Police throw tear gas at protesters during clashes at the Taksim Square in Istanbul Tuesday, June 11, 2013. Riot police are re-entering Istanbul’s Taksim Square after defiant protesters swarmed back in by the thousands. Massive plumes of tear gas billowed upward, and police fired water cannons Tuesday night.  (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

    Police throw tear gas at protesters during clashes at the Taksim Square in Istanbul Tuesday, June 11, 2013. Riot police are re-entering Istanbul’s Taksim Square after defiant protesters swarmed back in by the thousands. Massive plumes of tear gas billowed upward, and police fired water cannons Tuesday night. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

  • A couple of protesters run to avoid a policeman during clashes at the Taksim Square in Istanbul Tuesday, June 11, 2013. Hundreds of riot police overran improvised barricades at Istanbul's Taksim Square on Tuesday, firing tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannon in running battles with protesters who have been occupying the area for more than a week. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

    A couple of protesters run to avoid a policeman during clashes at the Taksim Square in Istanbul Tuesday, June 11, 2013. Hundreds of riot police overran improvised barricades at Istanbul's Taksim Square on Tuesday, firing tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannon in running battles with protesters who have been occupying the area for more than a week. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

  • Riot policemen take cover behind their shields amid tear gas smoke during clashes in Taksim Square in Istanbul, Turkey, Tuesday, June 11, 2013. Hundreds of police in riot gear forced through barricades in Istanbul's central Taksim Square early Tuesday, pushing many of the protesters who had occupied the square for more than a week into a nearby park. (AP Photo/Kostas Tsironis)

    Riot policemen take cover behind their shields amid tear gas smoke during clashes in Taksim Square in Istanbul, Turkey, Tuesday, June 11, 2013. Hundreds of police in riot gear forced through barricades in Istanbul's central Taksim Square early Tuesday, pushing many of the protesters who had occupied the square for more than a week into a nearby park. (AP Photo/Kostas Tsironis)

  • A petrol bomb explodes in front of  riot policemen during clashes in Taksim Square in Istanbul, Turkey, Tuesday, June 11, 2013. Hundreds of police in riot gear forced through barricades in Istanbul's central Taksim Square early Tuesday, pushing many of the protesters who had occupied the square for more than a week into a nearby park. (AP Photo/Kostas Tsironis)

    A petrol bomb explodes in front of riot policemen during clashes in Taksim Square in Istanbul, Turkey, Tuesday, June 11, 2013. Hundreds of police in riot gear forced through barricades in Istanbul's central Taksim Square early Tuesday, pushing many of the protesters who had occupied the square for more than a week into a nearby park. (AP Photo/Kostas Tsironis)

  • A protester lays under a wheel of a police water cannon as other tries to pull out him during a police operation to evacuate Taksim Square in Istanbul Tuesday, June 11, 2013. Hundreds of police in riot gear forced through barricades in the square early Tuesday, pushing many of the protesters who had occupied the square for more than a week into a nearby park. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

    A protester lays under a wheel of a police water cannon as other tries to pull out him during a police operation to evacuate Taksim Square in Istanbul Tuesday, June 11, 2013. Hundreds of police in riot gear forced through barricades in the square early Tuesday, pushing many of the protesters who had occupied the square for more than a week into a nearby park. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

  • Police hang a banner of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of the modern Turkey, next to a Turkish flag hung by protesters in a cultural center during a police operation to evacuate Taksim Square in Istanbul Tuesday, June 11, 2013. Hundreds of police in riot gear forced through barricades in the square early Tuesday, pushing many of the protesters who had occupied the square for more than a week into a nearby park. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

    Police hang a banner of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of the modern Turkey, next to a Turkish flag hung by protesters in a cultural center during a police operation to evacuate Taksim Square in Istanbul Tuesday, June 11, 2013. Hundreds of police in riot gear forced through barricades in the square early Tuesday, pushing many of the protesters who had occupied the square for more than a week into a nearby park. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

  • Police officer fires rubber bullets during an operation to evacuate Taksim Square in Istanbul Tuesday, June 11, 2013. Hundreds of police in riot gear forced through barricades in the square early Tuesday, pushing many of the protesters who had occupied the square for more than a week into a nearby park. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

    Police officer fires rubber bullets during an operation to evacuate Taksim Square in Istanbul Tuesday, June 11, 2013. Hundreds of police in riot gear forced through barricades in the square early Tuesday, pushing many of the protesters who had occupied the square for more than a week into a nearby park. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

  • A bulldozer removes a barricade set up by protesters during a police operation to evacuate Taksim Square in Istanbul Tuesday, June 11, 2013. Hundreds of police in riot gear forced through barricades in the square early Tuesday, pushing many of the protesters who had occupied the square for more than a week into a nearby park. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

    A bulldozer removes a barricade set up by protesters during a police operation to evacuate Taksim Square in Istanbul Tuesday, June 11, 2013. Hundreds of police in riot gear forced through barricades in the square early Tuesday, pushing many of the protesters who had occupied the square for more than a week into a nearby park. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

  • Police fires teargas at the start of an operation to evacuate Taksim Square in Istanbul Tuesday, June 11, 2013. Hundreds of police in riot gear forced through barricades in the square early Tuesday, pushing many of the protesters who had occupied the square for more than a week into a nearby park. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

    Police fires teargas at the start of an operation to evacuate Taksim Square in Istanbul Tuesday, June 11, 2013. Hundreds of police in riot gear forced through barricades in the square early Tuesday, pushing many of the protesters who had occupied the square for more than a week into a nearby park. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

  • A depiction of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, is seen on a barricade after riot police flooded the Gazi Park with tear gas during clashes at the Taksim Square in Istanbul Tuesday, June 11, 2013. Riot police are re-entering Istanbul’s Taksim Square after defiant protesters swarmed back in by the thousands. Massive plumes of tear gas billowed upward, and police fired water cannons Tuesday night. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

    A depiction of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, is seen on a barricade after riot police flooded the Gazi Park with tear gas during clashes at the Taksim Square in Istanbul Tuesday, June 11, 2013. Riot police are re-entering Istanbul’s Taksim Square after defiant protesters swarmed back in by the thousands. Massive plumes of tear gas billowed upward, and police fired water cannons Tuesday night. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

  • A girl is evacuated on a stretcher after riot police flooded the Gazi Park with tear gas during clashes at the Taksim Square in Istanbul Tuesday, June 11, 2013. Riot police are re-entering Istanbul’s Taksim Square after defiant protesters swarmed back in by the thousands. Massive plumes of tear gas billowed upward, and police fired water cannons Tuesday night. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

    A girl is evacuated on a stretcher after riot police flooded the Gazi Park with tear gas during clashes at the Taksim Square in Istanbul Tuesday, June 11, 2013. Riot police are re-entering Istanbul’s Taksim Square after defiant protesters swarmed back in by the thousands. Massive plumes of tear gas billowed upward, and police fired water cannons Tuesday night. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

  • Police operates during clashes at the Taksim Square in Istanbul Tuesday, June 11, 2013. Hundreds of riot police overran improvised barricades at Istanbul's Taksim Square on Tuesday, firing tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannon in running battles with protesters who have been occupying the area for more than a week. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

    Police operates during clashes at the Taksim Square in Istanbul Tuesday, June 11, 2013. Hundreds of riot police overran improvised barricades at Istanbul's Taksim Square on Tuesday, firing tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannon in running battles with protesters who have been occupying the area for more than a week. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

  • Police throw tear gas at protesters during clashes at the Taksim Square in Istanbul Tuesday, June 11, 2013. Hundreds of riot police overran improvised barricades at Istanbul's Taksim Square on Tuesday, firing tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannon in running battles with protesters who have been occupying the area for more than a week. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

    Police throw tear gas at protesters during clashes at the Taksim Square in Istanbul Tuesday, June 11, 2013. Hundreds of riot police overran improvised barricades at Istanbul's Taksim Square on Tuesday, firing tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannon in running battles with protesters who have been occupying the area for more than a week. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

  • A bulldozer and municipality workers remove a barricade set up by protesters during a police operation at the Taksim Square in Istanbul early Wednesday, June 12, 2013. Hundreds of riot police overran improvised barricades at Istanbul's Taksim Square on Tuesday, firing tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannon in running battles with protesters who have been occupying the area for more than a week. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

    A bulldozer and municipality workers remove a barricade set up by protesters during a police operation at the Taksim Square in Istanbul early Wednesday, June 12, 2013. Hundreds of riot police overran improvised barricades at Istanbul's Taksim Square on Tuesday, firing tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannon in running battles with protesters who have been occupying the area for more than a week. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

  • Protesters run to avoid the tear gas as others set fire a barricade during clashes at the Taksim Square in Istanbul on Tuesday, June 11, 2013. Riot police are re-entering Istanbul’s Taksim Square after defiant protesters swarmed back in by the thousands. Massive plumes of tear gas billowed upward, and police fired water cannons Tuesday night. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)
  • A man is evacuated on a stretcher after riot police flooded the Gazi Park with tear gas during clashes at the Taksim Square in Istanbul Tuesday, June 11, 2013. Riot police are re-entering Istanbul’s Taksim Square after defiant protesters swarmed back in by the thousands. Massive plumes of tear gas billowed upward, and police fired water cannons Tuesday night. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
  • Police throw tear gas at protesters during clashes at the Taksim Square in Istanbul Tuesday, June 11, 2013. Riot police are re-entering Istanbul’s Taksim Square after defiant protesters swarmed back in by the thousands. Massive plumes of tear gas billowed upward, and police fired water cannons Tuesday night.  (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)
  • A couple of protesters run to avoid a policeman during clashes at the Taksim Square in Istanbul Tuesday, June 11, 2013. Hundreds of riot police overran improvised barricades at Istanbul's Taksim Square on Tuesday, firing tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannon in running battles with protesters who have been occupying the area for more than a week. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)
  • Riot policemen take cover behind their shields amid tear gas smoke during clashes in Taksim Square in Istanbul, Turkey, Tuesday, June 11, 2013. Hundreds of police in riot gear forced through barricades in Istanbul's central Taksim Square early Tuesday, pushing many of the protesters who had occupied the square for more than a week into a nearby park. (AP Photo/Kostas Tsironis)
  • A petrol bomb explodes in front of  riot policemen during clashes in Taksim Square in Istanbul, Turkey, Tuesday, June 11, 2013. Hundreds of police in riot gear forced through barricades in Istanbul's central Taksim Square early Tuesday, pushing many of the protesters who had occupied the square for more than a week into a nearby park. (AP Photo/Kostas Tsironis)
  • A protester lays under a wheel of a police water cannon as other tries to pull out him during a police operation to evacuate Taksim Square in Istanbul Tuesday, June 11, 2013. Hundreds of police in riot gear forced through barricades in the square early Tuesday, pushing many of the protesters who had occupied the square for more than a week into a nearby park. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)
  • Police hang a banner of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of the modern Turkey, next to a Turkish flag hung by protesters in a cultural center during a police operation to evacuate Taksim Square in Istanbul Tuesday, June 11, 2013. Hundreds of police in riot gear forced through barricades in the square early Tuesday, pushing many of the protesters who had occupied the square for more than a week into a nearby park. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)
  • Police officer fires rubber bullets during an operation to evacuate Taksim Square in Istanbul Tuesday, June 11, 2013. Hundreds of police in riot gear forced through barricades in the square early Tuesday, pushing many of the protesters who had occupied the square for more than a week into a nearby park. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)
  • A bulldozer removes a barricade set up by protesters during a police operation to evacuate Taksim Square in Istanbul Tuesday, June 11, 2013. Hundreds of police in riot gear forced through barricades in the square early Tuesday, pushing many of the protesters who had occupied the square for more than a week into a nearby park. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)
  • Police fires teargas at the start of an operation to evacuate Taksim Square in Istanbul Tuesday, June 11, 2013. Hundreds of police in riot gear forced through barricades in the square early Tuesday, pushing many of the protesters who had occupied the square for more than a week into a nearby park. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)
  • A depiction of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, is seen on a barricade after riot police flooded the Gazi Park with tear gas during clashes at the Taksim Square in Istanbul Tuesday, June 11, 2013. Riot police are re-entering Istanbul’s Taksim Square after defiant protesters swarmed back in by the thousands. Massive plumes of tear gas billowed upward, and police fired water cannons Tuesday night. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
  • A girl is evacuated on a stretcher after riot police flooded the Gazi Park with tear gas during clashes at the Taksim Square in Istanbul Tuesday, June 11, 2013. Riot police are re-entering Istanbul’s Taksim Square after defiant protesters swarmed back in by the thousands. Massive plumes of tear gas billowed upward, and police fired water cannons Tuesday night. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
  • Police operates during clashes at the Taksim Square in Istanbul Tuesday, June 11, 2013. Hundreds of riot police overran improvised barricades at Istanbul's Taksim Square on Tuesday, firing tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannon in running battles with protesters who have been occupying the area for more than a week. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)
  • Police throw tear gas at protesters during clashes at the Taksim Square in Istanbul Tuesday, June 11, 2013. Hundreds of riot police overran improvised barricades at Istanbul's Taksim Square on Tuesday, firing tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannon in running battles with protesters who have been occupying the area for more than a week. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)
  • A bulldozer and municipality workers remove a barricade set up by protesters during a police operation at the Taksim Square in Istanbul early Wednesday, June 12, 2013. Hundreds of riot police overran improvised barricades at Istanbul's Taksim Square on Tuesday, firing tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannon in running battles with protesters who have been occupying the area for more than a week. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

Protesters and Turkey’s prime minister both refused to back down yesterday in what could become the final battle for Istanbul’s Taksim Square, the symbol of nationwide grievances against his government.

Tens of thousands of protesters returned to the square in the evening, in a show of defiance met with tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons, hours after riot police officers had forced their way past improvised barricades to clear the square of protesters occupying the area for the past 12 days.

Hundreds more vowed to continue their sit-in at Taksim’s adjacent Gezi Park, despite an order from Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan for them to leave – an order bolstered by the police show of force.

A peaceful demonstration against the park’s redevelopment that began more than two weeks ago has morphed into the biggest test of Erdogan’s authority in his decade of power.

The unrest has spread to 78 cities across the country, with protesters championing their objections to what they say is the prime minister’s increasingly authoritarian style and his perceived attempts to impose a religious and conservative lifestyle in a country with secular laws – charges he rejects.

So far, four people have died, including a police officer, and about 5,000 have been treated for injuries or the effects of tear gas, according to the Turkish Human Rights Foundation.

Yesterday’s clashes, which saw the police and protesters take and lose control of the square several times, came a day after Taksim saw its smallest gathering since the demonstrations began, sparked by a violent police reaction against a sit-in in the park to prevent its redevelopment.

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