Turkey protests: Riot police stormed an Istanbul park and forced out protesters

Protests have been going on for three weeks

(CNN) -- Workers cleaned up debris Sunday after Turkish riot police stormed an Istanbul park and forced out protesters, sending them scurrying into neighboring streets in a fog of tear gas and water.

Protesters have turned Gezi Park into a ground zero of anti-government demonstrations.

At least 29 people were injured in clashes Saturday as police sealed off Taksim Square and took Gezi Park, Istanbul Gov. Huseyin Avni Mutlu said.

Police had warned demonstrators who have occupied Istanbul's last remaining green space for more than two weeks to depart voluntarily or face being ejected.

By early Sunday morning, most protesters had dispersed and the cleanup was under way. Erdogan supporters plan to stage a counter demonstration Sunday at a different location.

Calls for political reforms

The protests started over Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's plan to turn the park into a mall. They quickly devolved into large anti-government demonstrations that included calls for political reforms.

Erdogan, who has been defiant of protest demands, warned that if protesters did not leave on their own, they would be forced out of Gezi Park.

"If it is not emptied, from now on, this country's security forces will know how to empty that place," he said.

Defiance amid chaos

A few minutes later, police used loudspeakers to order protesters out of the park, saying it was their last warning.

But the demonstration continued as the sun set, with hundreds packing the square -- some wearing gas masks. Others linked arms in solidarity and anticipation.

During his speech, Erdogan said the demonstrators were not meeting him halfway.

"We have reached out with our hands," he said. "However, some people returned their fists in response. Can you shake hands with those who reach out with a fist?"

He also ridiculed the protesters' assertions that they are environmentalists, calling them "thugs" and citing their honking of horns as evidence of their insincerity. "This is called noise pollution," he said.

He accused demonstrators of inciting sectarian violence by attacking a woman in a headscarf, kicking her, dragging her on the ground and snatching her head cover.

Some demonstrators entered a mosque wearing shoes, drank alcohol there and wrote insulting slogans on the walls -- acts forbidden by Muslims, he said.

Erdogan praised his government's performance over the past 10 years, citing a rising standard of living, a quintupling of the central bank's reserves and plans to build an airport.

Root of protests

The unrest began in Istanbul nearly three weeks ago, when a small group of people turned out to protest government plans to bulldoze Gezi Park and replace it with a shopping mall housed inside a replica of 19th-century Ottoman barracks.

Protesters said the plans represented a creeping infringement on their rights in a secular society.

Turkey was founded after secularists in the early 20th century defeated Islamic Ottoman forces, and many modern-day secularists frown on Ottoman symbols.

The protests broadened into an outpouring in the square and throughout the country as security forces cracked down on demonstrators.

The unrest also signaled political danger for Erdogan, a populist and democratically elected politician serving his third term in office.

CNN's Ian Lee and Gul Tuysuz and journalist Karl Penhaul reported from Istanbul. Tom Watkins and Neda Farshbaf reported and wrote from Atlanta.

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