Trade union to join Turkey's anti-govt protests, death toll rises to 2

ISTANBUL (AFP) - Turkish police and anti-government protesters clashed again in Istanbul on early Tuesday, as the reported death toll from nationwide protests rose to two.

One of the country's main trades union confederations meanwhile called a two-day strike from Tuesday in protest at the government crackdown on demonstrators which it denounced as "state terror".

In Istanbul, riot police fired tear gas at protestors who burned cars, hurled stones and bellowed angry slogans into the early hours of Tuesday.

Similar scenes played out in the capital Ankara.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who had already left on a trip to Morocco, however, insisted the situation was calming down.

He rejected talk of a "Turkish Spring" uprising by Turks who accuse him of trying to impose Islamic reforms on the secular state.

The clashes, which have rocked scores of cities across Turkey, entered a fifth day Tuesday.

In Istanbul, riot police played cat-and-mouse with thousands of protestors massing near Erdogan's office and the nearby stadium of Besiktas football team into the early hours.

AFP reporters saw many demonstrators being carried away by medics.

As white fumes hung in the air in surrounding streets, thousands of other protestors gathered on Taksim Square, the symbolic heart of the protests.

"Tayyip, resign!" they yelled, waving red flags and banners and whistling.

In Ankara, police used tear gas and water cannon to disperse hundreds of protestors early Tuesday.

Mr Erdogan has blamed the protests on "extremists" and "dissidents" among his opponents.

"The situation is now calming down... On my return from this visit, the problems will be solved," he told reporters in Rabat.

"The Republican People's Party and other dissidents have a hand in these events," he said, referring to the main Turkish opposition.

A medics' union earlier on Monday said a man had been killed when a car ploughed into protestors in Istanbul on Sunday.

And early on Tuesday, private television station NTV reported that a 22-year-old man had died after being shot in the head in Hatay province, in the south of the country.

Mr Abdullah Comert had died in hospital on Monday, it said, citing a statement from the local governor's office.

The wave of protests began after police cracked down at what demonstrators insist was a peaceful protest in Istanbul against plans to build over Gezi Park, a rare green spot adjoining Taksim Square.

That generated wider anti-government protests in Istanbul, Ankara and dozens of other cities.

Rights groups and doctors said more than a thousand people had been injured in clashes in Istanbul and 700 in Ankara.

The government's latest estimate on Sunday put the figure at 58 civilians and 115 security forces injured, with clashes in 67 cities. It also said more than 1,700 people had been arrested across the country but that many had since been released.

Mr Erdogan dismissed the protestors as "vandals", stressing that he had been democratically elected.

His Justice and Development Party (AKP) has won three successive parliamentary elections, but opponents have expressed mounting concern that Turkey is moving towards conservative Islam.

Echoing Britain and other Western allies of Turkey, US Secretary of State John Kerry voiced concern over "reports of excessive use of force" by police.

He urged all sides to "avoid any provocations or violence".

Mr Erdogan's ally President Abdullah Gul called for calm, assuring protestors that their voices had been heard.

Mr Erdogan himself has lashed out at Twitter, used by many of the protesters, accusing the online messaging service of spreading "lies".

The clashes over the last few days have exposed the tensions at the heart of Turkey, which although constitutionally a secular state is peopled mostly by Muslims.

The Istanbul stock exchange closed 10 per cent lower on Monday and the Turkish lira fell against the euro and the dollar.

Turkey's Confederation of Public Workers' Unions (KESK) has called a two-day strike from Tuesday to protest against the crackdown.

"The state terror implemented against entirely peaceful protests is continuing in a way that threatens civilians' life safety," KESK said in a statement on its website.

Since coming to power in 2002, Mr Erdogan has passed contested reforms on religious education and a recent law curbing the sale of alcohol. In 2004, he backed down on a proposed adultery law.

Shrugging off the rising protests, he pushed ahead on Monday with what he said was a pre-planned four-day official trip to Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia.

Before he left, he referred to next year's elections, when observers expect him to run for president.

"I don't know what the president (Gul) said, but for me, democracy comes from the ballot box," he said.

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