Turkey's prime minister is scheduled to meet a group of activists involved in
the country's biggest anti-government protests in decades.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan's talks will come after clashes in Istanbul lasted into the early hours of yesterday and throughout the day, as riot police fired tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets at protesters in the city's central Taksim Square and its adjacent Gezi Park.
Police also used tear gas to disperse protests in the capital, Ankara.
Mr Erdogan has warned he will put an end to the gatherings which he says are hurting Turkey's image and economy.
The protests erupted on May 31 after a violent police crackdown on a peaceful sit-in by activists objecting to a project replacing the park with a replica Ottoman-era barracks. The crisis has left Mr Erdogan looking vulnerable for the first time in his decade in power and threatens to tarnish the international image of Turkey, a Muslim majority country with a strongly secular tradition, a booming economy and close ties with the US.
Throughout the protests, Mr Erdogan has maintained a defiant tone, insisting he would not be bowed by what he described as a vocal minority. Yesterday, as police clashed with protesters in Taksim, he insisted again that the unrest was part of a conspiracy against his government.
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 his authority, sparked by outrage over the violent police crackdown on May 31.
The unrest has spread to 78 towns and cities across the country, with protesters highlighting 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 on a country with secular laws - charges he rejects.
Four people have been killed, including a policeman, and about 5,000 have been treated for injuries or the effects of tear gas, according to the Turkish Human Rights Foundation. Thousands of police moved in early yesterday, pushing past improvised barricades set up by the protesters who have swarmed through the massive square and park in their tens of thousands for the past 12 days.
Police fired repeated rounds of tear gas that rose in stinging plumes of acrid smoke from the square in running battles with groups of protesters hurling fireworks, bottles, rocks and firebombs in a cat-andmouse game that lasted through the day and into the night.
More than 30,000 converged on the square again as dusk fell and were repelled by water cannon, rubber bullets and tear gas after Istanbul's governor, Huseyin Avni Mutlu, said the police came under attack from marginal groups.
By the early hours of yesterday, clean-up crews had moved into Taksim Square, clearing the debris and dismantling the makeshift shelters the protesters had set up.
Last night, it was revealed the Turkish government is open to holding a referendum over the development plan.
The announcement from Justice and Development party spokesman Huseyin Celik came after talks between Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and a group of activists.
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