Turkey PM's party rules out early elections

Demonstrations enter second week with clash in capital

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ANKARA, Turkey -- Police in this Turkish capital city fired tear gas and used water cannons to disperse thousands of people protesting near government buildings Saturday, as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's governing party rejected calls for early elections.

Turkey's biggest wave of anti-government demonstrations in decades entered its second week with no signs of waning.

Huseyin Celik, deputy chairman of Turkey's ruling Justice and Development party, denied opposition demands for early elections and said the country won't bow to financial speculators seeking to profit from the unrest.

Mr. Celik, speaking after a more-than-four-hour meeting of the party's executive committee Saturday in Istanbul, said that while the government would listen to "legitimate demands" from the people, elections would only take place as planned in 2015.

Mr. Erdogan, who returned Friday from North Africa amid protesters' calls for his resignation, led the party meeting. The event was brought forward from June 19 after rallies against plans to build on parkland in central Istanbul turned into anti-government demonstrations.

The protests, sparked by outrage over a violent police action to oust the environmental protests in Istanbul's Taksim Square on May 31, and which have spread to dozens of cities across Turkey, are the first serious challenge to Mr. Erdogan's leadership.

Three people have died -- two protesters and a policeman -- and thousands have been injured so far.

The protests have become a general condemnation of Mr. Erdogan, whom many consider to have grown authoritarian in his 10 years in power and accuse of trying to introduce his religious and conservative mores in a Muslim country governed by secular laws.

The head of Turkey's nationalist party, Devlet Bahceli, had called for early elections for Mr. Erdogan to reaffirm his mandate.

"The prime minister's stance and the tumult have deepened the crisis," Mr. Bahceli told reporters. "The prime minister's time is up, we believe he has to renew his mandate."

The protests have attracted a broad array of people angered by what they say are Mr. Erdogan's increasingly authoritarian ways and his intervention in private lives. They point to attempts to curtail the selling and promotion of alcohol, his comments on how women should dress and statements that each woman should have at least three children.

A devout Muslim who says he is committed to upholding Turkey's secular tradition, Mr. Erdogan vehemently rejects charges of autocracy and points out that he enjoyed 50 percent support in the last elections in 2011.

The protests began as a sit-in at Taksim's Gezi Park to prevent a redevelopment project that would replace the park with replica Ottoman barracks and a shopping mall. The mall idea has since been scrapped, with Mr. Erdogan recently saying an opera house, theater and possibly a museum would be built instead.

Mr. Erdogan said Friday that the protests must end immediately. However, they show no signs of abating.

On Saturday, thousands of fans from Istanbul's rival football teams, Fenerbahce, Galatasaray and Besiktas, set aside their usual rivalry to march together and join protesters in Taksim Square.

They set off dozens of flares, which streaked into the night sky above the packed square.

A group of Besiktas fans also marched in Ankara.

Police in the capital used tear gas and water cannon to scatter thousands of people marching to an area close to Mr. Erdogan's office and to Parliament on Saturday. Police and protesters also clashed in Istanbul's Sultangazi suburb.


Associated Press and Bloomberg News contributed.


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