ANKARA – Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has agreed to meet with protest leaders whose mass demonstrations have rocked the country since the deadly unrest began nearly two weeks ago.
The surprise olive branch came as thousands again took to the streets of Istanbul and the capital Ankara, defying Erdogan's threat that they would "pay a price" for the unrelenting unrest, the biggest challenge yet to his government's decade-long rule.
Riot police fired tear gas in the centre of Ankara on Monday night to disperse hundreds of protesters on the 11th day of mass demonstrations against the government.
"Our prime minister has given an appointment to some of the groups leading these protests," said deputy premier Bulent Arinc, adding that the talks would take place on Wednesday.
"They will be briefed on the facts and our prime minister will listen to their thoughts," he told reporters in Ankara after a six-hour cabinet meeting on the crisis.
Despite the conciliatory gesture, he warned: "Illegal demonstrations will not be allowed anymore in Turkey."
The unrest first erupted after police cracked down heavily on a campaign to save Istanbul's Gezi Park from demolition on May 31.
The trouble spiralled into nationwide displays of anger. Nearly 5,000 demonstrators, scores of whom are young and middle-class, have been injured and three people have died.
After a weekend of record crowds of tens of thousands in Istanbul's Taksim Square, the epicentre of the unrest, protesters packed the music-filled, flag-festooned area and nearby Gezi Park for an 11th night late on Monday.
In the capital Ankara, police poured into the affluent Tunali Hilmi street which until now had largely been spared from the riots.
Restaurant owners were forced to shut themselves in with their clients. Turkey's combative leader has so far responded with defiance to the protesters. AFP