Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan accused anti-government protesters of walking "arm-in-arm with terrorism," remarks that could further inflame public anger after some of the most violent riots in decades.
"This is a protest organized by extremist elements," Erdogan said.
Erdogan made the most inflammatory of his speeches as he arrived in the Turkish capital, Ankara, returning from a trip abroad. Erdogan belittled the protesters, again calling them "capulcu," the Turkish word for looters or vandals. He made his speech in Ankara on an open-top bus, which then drove into the city in a motorcade.
"If you look in the dictionary, you will see how right a description this is," Erdogan said, speaking to thousands of supporters who greeted him at the airport. "Those who burn and destroy are called capulcu. Those who back them are of the same family."
Erdogan said his patience was running out with the protesters, who have occupied Istanbul's main Taksim Square for more almost two weeks and have held hundreds of demonstrations in at least 78 cities across the country.
His increasingly fiery tone was expected to inflame tensions. On two occasions, including one in the southern city of Adana, clashes have been reported between Erdogan supporters and protesters.
Hundreds of police and protesters have been injured, when a demonstration to halt construction in a park in an Istanbul square grew into mass protests against a heavy-handed crackdown, Erdogan's authoritarianism. Specifically, they object to the direction Erdogan has taken Turkey during his 10-year – away from a secular democracy and towards an Islamist state.
The demonstrations showed no sign of abating with protesters gathering again in Taksim Square. Protesters hung out red and black flags and banners calling on Erdogan to resign declaring: "Whatever happens, there is no going back."
Erdogan has dismissed the protests as the work of secularist enemies who have never been reconciled to the mandate of his AK party, which has roots in Islamist parties banned in the past. The party has won three straight elections and overseen an economic boom, increasing Turkey's influence in the region.
"We are held accountable by the nation, not by some marginal groups. The place for accountability to the nation is the ballot box; the people have brought us in and they can take us out. At this point, other than the nation, no one has the power to remove us," said Erdogan, who struck a defiant tone in Ankara, as tens of thousands in Istanbul chanted for him to resign. "Instead of burning and tearing down places, be patient for seven months. I'll see you at the polls in seven months."
Anti-government protesters have turned Erdogan's label of them as capulcu into a humorous retort, printing stickers with the word and scrawling it on their tents.
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