Mass protests under control, says Turkey's government

ISTANBUL (AFP) - The mass protests that have engulfed Turkey are "under control", the government said on Saturday, as thousands defied Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's call to end their demonstrations.

"We are ready to listen to all reasonable, legal and democratic demands," said Deputy Prime Minister Huseyin Celik on a ninth day of demonstrations against Mr Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

"The process is under the control of the government, and is becoming normalised and increasingly in line with common sense," deputy AKP head Celik said after a meeting between Mr Erdogan and top party officials in Istanbul.

A harsh police crackdown on a small campaign to save an Istanbul park on May 31 triggered nationwide protests against Mr Erdogan, seen as increasingly authoritarian.

The police have used tear gas and water cannon to disperse demonstrators in cities across Turkey, injuring thousands. Three people have also been killed in the unrest, which has provoked international condemnation.

Mr Erdogan has responded with defiance to the demonstrators but has called for a probe into the use of excessive force by the police.

"Nobody will get away with it - police or protesters, whoever abused others' rights," added Mr Celik.

Asked by reporters whether the government would consider calling early elections, Mr Celik dismissed the suggestion.

"There is no need for early elections," he said. "You don't decide on early elections because people are marching on the streets."

Turkey will hold local and presidential elections in 2014. The AKP announced on Saturday it would launch its first campaign rally in Ankara on June 15, to be followed by another in Istanbul the next day, according to the local media.

Tens of thousands of AKP loyalists are expected to turn up at the rallies to show solidarity with Mr Erdogan, who has won three succesive elections.

Thousands of chanting, flag-waving protesters again massed on Istanbul's Taksim Square, the epicentre of the protest movement, on Saturday, ignoring Mr Erdogan's call for an immediate end to the protests.

The capital Ankara also saw fresh rallies.