Turkey’s PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called for protests across the country to end immediately.
At Istanbul airport Recep Tayyip Erdogan told crowds of supporters who were welcoming him home from a four-day North Africa tour that the protests bordered on illegality.
As he spoke, thousands of anti-government protesters were also rallying in Istanbul’s Taksim Square.
The unrest began as a local protest over a park in Istanbul but spiraled into nationwide demonstrations.
An estimated 10,000 supporters of Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AKP party descended on the airport to welcome him home in the early hours of Friday.
Standing alongside his wife and government ministers on an open-top bus, Recep Tayyip Erdogan told the crowd: “These protests that are bordering on illegality must come to an end as of now.”
At times Recep Tayyip Erdogan was almost drowned out by the cheering and chanting of his supporters.
“We have never been for building tension and polarization, but we cannot applaud brutality,” he said.
Some of his supporters chanted: “Let us go, let’s crush Taksim.”
However, Recep Tayyip Erdogan urged them to “go home” peacefully.
“You have remained calm, mature and showed common sense,” he said.
“We’re all going to go home from here.”
Recep Tayyip Erdogan responded to calls for his resignation by referring to his election victory in 2011 when he took 50% of the vote.
“They say I am the prime minister of only 50%. It’s not true. We have served the whole of the 76 million from the east to the west,” he told the crowd.
It was the first major show of support for Recep Tayyip Erdogan following a week of protests in which his opponents have called for him to resign.
The divisions in Turkey look set to deepen in the days ahead and could be very dangerous indeed.
The original sit-in at Gezi Park last Friday spiraled into mass protests after police cracked down on activists defending the green space near Taksim Square from developers.
Correspondents in Taksim Square say the atmosphere is good-natured, with protesters dancing and chanting political slogans.
Many are part of a secular, well-educated middle class which feels that Turkey lacks a proper, free political culture.
One protester in the square, named as Deniz, told reporters: “He [Recep Tayyip Erdogan] cannot take the park, there is no way. You know what? He will cause a war inside the country. We will keep resisting.”
Protesters accuse Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government of becoming increasingly authoritarian and trying to impose conservative Islamic values on a secular state.
His Justice and Development Party (AKP) has governed Turkey since 2002.
Speaking in Tunis earlier, Recep Tayyip Erdogan acknowledged that police had used “excessive force” against activists at the original sit-in. But he said that a small group was now manipulating what had started as an environmental protest.
“Among the protesters there are extremists, some of them implicated in terrorism,” he told reporters.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan also defended the urban development plan for Gezi Park.
Turkey’s stock market dropped nearly 5% after his remarks.
Amid growing international concern at the unrest, the US has urged Turkish officials to refrain from “unhelpful rhetoric” and France has condemned the heavy-handed police response.
Four people, including a police officer, are reported to have died since the protests began, with thousands more hurt and hundreds arrested.
Interior Minister Muammer Guler has said that more than 500 police officers are among the injured.
The protests come as Turkey prepares to host an international conference focused on its relations with the EU on Friday.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan is to make the opening speech at the event.
Negotiations with the EU have stalled in recent years amid concerns over Turkey’s freedom of speech, treatment of religious minorities, women’s and children’s rights, civilian control of the military and long-running tensions over Cyprus.