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Turkey: Thousands rally in support of Erdogan while protesters continue sit-in

While anti-government protesters continue their sit-in in Gezi Park, tens of thousands rallied in support of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday. 

By Burhan Ozbilici and Jamey KeatenAssociated Press / June 15, 2013

Protesters sleep under a plastic sheet at the Gezi Park of the Taksim Square in Istanbul early Saturday. On Friday, protesters held debates in several locations in Gezi Park to discuss the results of a meeting their representatives had with the prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and whether his proposal was enough for them to end their occupation of the park.

Thanassis Stavrakis/AP

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Sincan, Turkey

Tens of thousands of backers of the Turkish prime minister were rallying Saturday, a powerful show of support for the government as it faces off with protesters in a two-week stand-off that has fanned nationwide demonstrations.

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Flag-waving supporters of Recep Tayyip Erdogan converged Saturday in Sincan — a suburb of the capital Ankara that is a stronghold of his Justice and Development Party. Organizers hoisted a giant poster of Erdogan above a platform where he was expected to speak later.

Protesters have vowed to press on with a sit-in at Istanbul's Gezi Park, defying government appeals and a warning from Erdogan to leave. The announcement from Taksim Solidarity, an umbrella group of protest movements in Gezi Park, is putting the spotlight on Erdogan's Saturday speech.

He already has offered to defer to a court ruling on the legality of the government's contested park redevelopment plan, and floated the possibility of a referendum on it. But concessions over the park seem to no longer be enough.

A violent police crackdown on what began as an environmental protest over a redevelopment plan sparked a much broader expression of discontent about Erdogan's government and what many said was his increasingly authoritarian manner of governing.

Erdogan, who was elected with 50 percent of the vote for his third term in 2011, vehemently rejects the accusations. But the protests put some of the greatest political pressure on him in his 10-year tenure.

Earlier this week, Erdogan ordered the adjacent Taksim Square to be cleared of protesters who had also been staging a sit-in there. Police moved past improvised barricades on Tuesday, firing tear gas and rubber bullets and using water cannons to fend off small groups of demonstrators throwing stones, bottles and firebombs. Tear gas was also fired through the trees into the park, although the protesters were not removed.

Taksim Square itself returned to normal right after the end of the police operation early Wednesday. Traffic returned, the protest banners and flags were taken down, and cafes set up their chairs and tables outside again. At night, demonstrators still spill out from the park down the steps, while riot police keep watch from the edges.

Tayfun Kahraman — a Taksim Solidarity member who met with Erdogan in last-ditch talks that lasted until the pre-dawn hours Friday — said the protesters had agreed to continue their sit-in at Gezi Park after holding a series of discussions about their response to the pledges made by Erdogan.

"We shall remain in the park until all of our democratic rights are recognized," he told The Associated Press, insisting that four key demands laid out by protesters in the talks had not been met.

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