'Last warning' for protesters to leave Istanbul park: Turkey PM

ANKARA (AFP) - Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday issued a "last warning" for thousands of protesters to evacuate an Istanbul park at the centre of mass anti-government unrest after offering to hold a referendum on plans to redevelop the site.

"I'm making my last warning: mothers, fathers please withdraw your kids from there," Mr Erdogan said in a live television broadcast.

"Gezi Park does not belong to occupying forces. It belongs to everybody," he added.

The premier urged environmental protesters to withdraw so that police could clear the site of "illegal organisations".

"Don't sadden us anymore, let us clean Gezi park and return it to its rightful owners... the people of Istanbul."

On Tuesday, police already took back Taksim Square, next to the park, sparking a day of violent clashes between riot police and tens of thousands of angry demonstrators.

A campaign to save Gezi Park's 600 trees from being razed to make way for a replica of Ottoman-era military barracks was met with a tough police response on May 31.

The violence sparked a nationwide outpouring of anger against Mr Erdogan, seen as increasingly authoritarian after more than a decade in power.

The premier has faced international condemnation over his handling of the crisis, which has left four people dead and injured nearly 5,000 demonstrators.

But Mr Erdogan defended the police action, saying: "Police use force when needed."

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