A weekend of dramatic protest left Turkey reeling, with thousands of dissidents taking to the streets following a brutal police crackdown, presenting the country's leadership with the most cohesive challenge to its leadership it has faced during more than a decade in power.
PHOTOS: Unrest in Turkey continues
"The government is passing laws that go against our freedom, that take away our rights," said 31-year-old Derya Bozkurt as she stood in the heart of Taksim Gezi Park in central Istanbul on Sunday evening, drinking a beer and smoking a cigar — powerful statements in present-day Turkey, where Islamists frown on alcohol consumption and cigar smoking is hardly the social norm for a woman.
"The government doesn't listen. They work only for the people who will vote for them," she added.
Thousands of people filled the park, singing and drinking; eating fresh chunks of watermelon, barbecued corn cobs and oysters straight from the shells. Young couples kissed — a retort to a government morality campaign calling for greater modesty. The acerbic sting of tear gas still lingered from protests that provoked a strong police response Friday.
The demonstrations began as a reaction to government plans to bulldoze Taksim Gezi Park, one of central Istanbul's last major green areas, and replace it with a shopping mall and a replica of an Ottoman-era barracks. By Saturday, the protests had spread to cities around the country and had blossomed into a broad repudiation of Erdogan, who is seen as an increasingly authoritarian figure — even as he wins plaudits internationally for improving Turkey's economy and making it an increasingly important player on the global stage.
Protesters carried placards reading "Resign, Erdogan" as they took to the alleys and boulevards surrounding the square during two days of street violence.
"Demolishing our park was just the trigger," said one protester, an engineer who stood beneath a sycamore tree and would give only his first name, Murad. "The government needs to understand that it can't just decide everything alone. In a democracy, governments represent the people, they don't just get to do whatever they want."