ISTANBUL - Anti-government protesters responsible for Turkey's worst riots in years are "arm-in-arm with terrorism", Prime Minister Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said, in a defiant response to four days of unrest in dozens of cities across the country.
Hundreds of police and protesters have been injured since Friday, when a demonstration to halt construction in a park in an Istanbul square grew into mass protests against a heavy-handed police crackdown and what opponents call Erdogan's authoritarian policies.
Erdogan has dismissed the protests as the work of secular enemies never reconciled to the election success of his AK party, which has roots in Islamist parties banned in the past but which also embraces center-right and nationalist elements. The party has won three straight elections and overseen an economic boom, increasing Turkey's influence in the region.
"This is a protest organized by extremist elements," Erdogan said before departing on a trip to North Africa. "We will not give away anything to those who live arm-in-arm with terrorism."
On arrival in Rabat, flanked by Moroccan Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane, Erdogan blamed parties that had lost elections for the violence, which he predicted would be short-lived: "In a few days the situation will return to normal."