Ankara: Tens of thousands of people took to the streets in Turkey's four biggest cities on Sunday and clashed with riot police firing tear gas on the third day of the fiercest anti-government protests.
               
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan blamed the main secular opposition party for inciting the crowds, whom he called "a few looters", and said the protests were aimed at depriving his ruling AK Party of votes as elections begin next year.
              
 The unrest erupted on Friday when trees were torn down at a park in Istanbul's main Taksim Square under government plans to redevelop the area, but widened into a broad show of defiance against the Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP).

 Meanwhile, Turkish Interior Minister Muammer Guler on Sunday said more than 1,700 people had been arrested in anti-government protests that have spread to 67 cities nationwide, though most have since been released.
    
"A large majority of the detainees were released after being questioned and identified," he said in remarks carried by a state-run news agency. He added that the country had seen 235 demonstrations since Tuesday.
    
The minister also warned against "misinformation being spread on social media," denying claims by rights groups and on social media websites that several people had been killed.
    
He said 58 civilians and 115 security officers had been wounded, while rights groups say hundreds of people have been hurt.
    
Authorities say almost 100 police vehicles, 94 shops and dozens of cars have been damaged since Friday. The total damage to property is estimated at more than 20 million liras (over eight million euros), according to Guler.

(JPN/Agencies)  

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