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Unions prepare strikes to support Turkey protests

Published: Monday, June 17, 2013 7:23 a.m. CST

ISTANBUL — Turkish trade unions urged their members to walk out of work Monday and join demonstrations in response to a widespread police crackdown against activists following weeks of street protests.

However, the interior minister issued a stark warning to organizers of the one-day labor walkout that is aimed at maintaining pressure on Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government.

"I am calling on public workers and laborers to not participate in unlawful demonstrations — otherwise they will bear the legal consequences," Muammer Guler said. "Our police will be on duty as usual."

A day earlier, riot police cordoned off streets, set up roadblocks and fired tear gas and water cannons to prevent anti-government protesters from converging on Istanbul's central Taksim Square, while a few kilometers (miles) away Erdogan addressed hundreds of thousands of government supporters.

Police on Monday maintained a lockdown on Taksim, the epicenter of more than two weeks of protests, by barring vehicles. However, as the work week began, authorities re-opened a subway station at the square that had been shuttered Sunday when protesters tried to regroup.

Two of Turkey's largest labor movements urged members to walk off the job Monday afternoon and converge at the square.

In Ankara overnight, riot police fired tear gas and water cannons against thousands of protesters, the latest violence in a more than two-week standoff that started as an environmentalist rally but later morphed into a broader protest against Erdogan's government.

Five people, including a policeman, have died and more than 5,000 have been injured, according to a Turkish rights group.

Riot police on Saturday emptied Istanbul's Gezi Park, next to Taksim Square, ending an 18-day sit-in by protesters against plans to redevelop the park.

Erdogan, who long has been praised for shepherding Turkey to strong economic growth as many other world economies lagged, has seen his international reputation dented over his government's handling of the situation. He has blamed the protests on a nebulous plot to destabilize his government and has repeatedly lashed out at reports in foreign media and chatter in social media about the situation.

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Keaten reported from Ankara, Turkey. Ezgi Akin contributed from Ankara.

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