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Turkish PM Blames Protests on Extremists

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused anti-government protesters of walking "arm-in-arm with terrorism," as he blamed "extremist elements" for three days of some of the most violent riots in years.

His comments Monday came as the Turkish Doctors' Association said a 20-year-old Turkish man died when a vehicle slammed into a crowd of protesters who were marching late Sunday. It was the first known death related to the demonstrations.

Speaking to reporters before departing on a planned four-day trip to North Africa, Mr. Erdogan dismissed the protests as the work of secularist enemies who never accepted the mandate of his Islamist AKP party, which has won three straight elections.

He rejected comparisons with the Arab Spring uprising, saying in televised comments that the protesters had no support in the general population. He gave no indication he was prepared to compromise.

Police in Istanbul and Ankara used tear gas early Monday to disperse protesters, some of whom had marched on Mr. Erdogan's offices.

Rights groups say hundreds of security personnel and protesters have been injured since Friday in the violence, pitting stone-throwing protesters against riot police firing tear gas and water cannons.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday expressed concern about reports of excessive use of force by police and urged the Turkish government to uphold freedom of expression and exercise restraint. He also urged protesters "to avoid any provocation of violence."



Both Mr. Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul urged calm Monday. However, in contrast to the prime minister's comments, Mr. Gul defended the right of citizens to protest.

The demonstrations began as a demand to stop an urban redevelopment plan on park land, but have more broadly included criticism of Mr. Erdogan's government.

Turkey's Interior Ministry said Sunday more than 1,700 people had been detained since last week, but that most have since been released.

The police crackdown on protesters in Istanbul appeared to anger many secular Turks, who accuse Mr. Erdogan's decade-old, Islamist-rooted government of becoming increasingly authoritarian.

International rights groups have strongly criticized the crackdown as excessive.



"The United States supports full freedom of expression and assembly including the right of people to peaceful protest, because that is fundamental to any democracy. And we are concerned by the reports of excessive use of force by police, we obviously hope that there will a full investigation of those incidents and full restraint from the police force with respect to those kinds of incidents. And we urge all people involved those demonstrating and expressing their freedom of expression and those in the government to avoid any provocation of violence."

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