ISTANBUL - Riot police fired tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets in day-long clashes that lasted into the early hours Wednesday, battling protesters who have been occupying Istanbul's central Taksim Square and its adjacent Gezi Park in the country's most severe anti-government protests in decades.
The crisis has left Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan looking vulnerable for the first time in his decade in power and has threatened to tarnish the international image of Turkey, a Muslim majority country with a strongly secular tradition, a burgeoning economy and close ties with the United States.
Throughout the protests, Erdogan has maintained a defiant tone, insisting he would not be bowed by what he described as a vocal minority. On Tuesday, as police clashed with protesters in Taksim, he insisted again that the unrest was part of a conspiracy against his government.
Ambulances stand by to evacuate injured protesters after riot police flooded the Gazi Park with tear gas during clashes at the Taksim Square in Istanbul Tuesday.
The demonstrators, he said, " are being used by some financial institutions, the interest rate lobby and media groups to (harm) Turkey's economy and (scare away) investments."
A peaceful demonstration against the park's redevelopment that began more than two weeks ago has grown into the biggest test of Erdogan's authority, sparked by outrage over a violent police crackdown on May 31 against a peaceful sit-in in the park.