Turkey's deputy prime minister has apologized for a police crackdown on protesters, as nationwide anti-government demonstrations stretched into a fifth day Tuesday.
Bulent Arinc said it was wrong to use "excessive force" against people who started the protests intending to protect the environment. However, he said the government does not owe an apology to those who have destroyed property and interfered with people's freedom.
"The use of excessive force shown against the people who initially started this protest with the motive of protecting the environment was wrong. And it was unfair. So I apologize to those citizens, I can definitely say that. But I do not think we need to apologize to those who create destruction of public property in the streets and who try to prevent the freedom of the people in the streets.''
Arinc said he will meet with organizers of the original protest that took place last Friday over government plans to demolish a park adjacent to Istanbul's Taksim Square. The protests have since escalated into a show of anger at the ruling party, with accusations the prime minister is imposing Islamic views on a secular nation and ruling in an authoritarian manner.
Two people have died in the protests, including one who was hit by a car in Istanbul and another in the southern city of Antakya. Officials have given conflicting reports on the victim in Antakya, saying he was shot to death or suffered a fatal blow to the head.
Arinc said 244 police officers and 64 protesters have been injured since the demonstrations began.
On Tuesday, police and demonstrators clashed anew in Istanbul and in the capital, Ankara. Police used tear gas to try to break up groups of protesters in Istanbul, while demonstrators used bricks and other materials to build barricades on city streets.
A trade union confederation representing nearly 250,000 people is holding a two-day strike starting Tuesday to protest the police crackdown on the demonstrators.
On Monday, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan dismissed the protests as bitterness over lost elections. He said the protesters are walking arm-in-arm with terrorists and that they have no support among most Turks.
Turkish President Abdullah Gul urged Turks to stay calm but defended their right to protest.
In Washington, White House spokesman Jay Carney said the United States is concerned about reports of excessive force by police, and he urged all sides to avoid violence. He said the right to peaceful protest is fundamental to any democracy.