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Police fire tear gas at Istanbul anti-government protest

Plain clothes police officers detain a demonstrator during a protest against a new law tightening control of the Internet in Istanbul Februa
Plain clothes police officers detain a demonstrator during a protest against a new law tightening control of the Internet in Istanbul Februa

By Ece Toksabay

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkish riot police fired tear gas on Saturday to disperse thousands of demonstrators in central Istanbul protesting against what they see as authoritarian new laws from Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's government.

Battling a corruption scandal, Erdogan's AK Party has pushed through laws tightening government control over the Internet and courts this month, and has proposed a bill envisaging broader powers for the national intelligence agency.

Officers backed by water cannon cleared demonstrators from the main Istiklal shopping street, some chanting "Everywhere Taksim, Everywhere Resistance", a reference to weeks of anti-government protests last summer on the nearby Taksim Square.

"(Prime Minister) Tayyip Erdogan, don't pull the Internet plug," read one banner among the crowds.

"We are here because we are sick and tired of Tayyip's angry scolding and AK Party laws trying to limit every freedom we have," said Sinem Gul, a 26-year-old architect.

Tear gas spread into shops and restaurants as police chased demonstrators into side streets, in the second such protest in recent weeks.

Erdogan's critics see the new laws as an authoritarian backlash against the corruption inquiry shaking his government, which his supporters say is a plot against him by powerful U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, who wields extensive if covert influence over the police and judiciary.

Social media and video-sharing sites have been awash with leaked recordings presented as evidence of government wrongdoing since the corruption scandal erupted in December. Reuters has been unable to verify their authenticity.

The government says the laws - including the Internet bill which allows web pages to be blocked within hours - protect privacy and defend democracy in the face of a bid by Gulen to manipulate state institutions, a charge the cleric denies.

The graft scandal poses one of the greatest threats to Erdogan's 11-year-old rule and his response, including dismissing or reassigning thousands of police officers and hundreds of prosecutors and judges, has betrayed what critics say are increasingly authoritarian tendencies.

Gulen has denied orchestrating the scandal and his supporters have said they are the victims of a witch-hunt.

(Reporting by Ece Toksabay; Writing by Nick Tattersall; Editing by Andrew Roche)

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