'Terrorists' taking part in Turkey protests, says PM Erdogan

TUNIS (AFP) - Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday that members of a "terrorist organisation" were taking part in deadly anti-government protests sweeping Turkey and refused to cancel a controversial plan to develop a small park in central Istanbul that sparked them.

He said seven foreign suspects implicated in the unrest had been arrested.

"Among the protesters, there are extremists, some of them implicated in terrorism," Mr Erdogan told reporters in Tunis on the final day of a north African tour that has been overshadowed by the unrest back home.

"Supporters of this terrorist organisation were present" in Istanbul's Taksim Square, epicentre of the protests, he added.

Germany’s human rights commissioner on Thursday labelled the violence against Turkish protesters “shocking” and called on the government to immediately release detainees who he said were fighting for basic rights.

“I expect the Turkish government to respond to the essentially peaceful demonstrations appropriately and without the use of force,” federal commissioner Markus Loening said in a statement.

“The large number of those arrested and injured is shocking,” he said.

Three people have been killed, including a policeman, and Turkey’s national doctors’ union said more than 4,300 have been injured in recent days.

About three million Turks or Germans of Turkish origin live in Germany, making up the country’s largest ethnic minority.

The rallies since May 31 accuse Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of increasingly authoritarian rule and seeking to force conservative Islamic values on Turkey, a mainly Muslim but staunchly secular nation.

Mr Loening called on the Erdogan government “to prevent excessive use of force, to refrain from the continuing action against people who exercise their fundamental rights to freedom of expression and assembly, and to release the detainees immediately”.

“The detention of demonstrators who exchange information on Twitter is also unacceptable and constitutes a restriction on freedom of expression in Turkey. They too must be released immediately.”