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Turkish unions join fierce protests, two died

World News : Pockets of protesters clashed with Turkish riot police overnight and a union federation began a two-day strike on Tuesday as anti-government demonstrations in which two people have died stretched into a fifth day.

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 Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s authoritarian policies.

A 22-year-old protester was shot dead late on Monday at a rally in the southern town of Antakya near the Syrian border, the provincial governor’s office said, the second death after a taxi hit a demonstrator in Istanbul on Sunday. It was not clear who opened fire at the demonstration.

Turkey’s leftist Public Workers Unions Confederation (KESK), which represents 240,000 members, was due to begin a two-day “warning strike” at midday (0900 GMT) to protest at the police crackdown on what had begun as peaceful protests.

In a defiant response to Turkey’s worst riots in years, Erdogan said the protesters were “arm-in-arm with terrorism”, before leaving for an official visit to North Africa on Monday.

Barricades of rubble hindered traffic alongside the Bosphorus waterway and blocked entry into Istanbul’s main Taksim Square after clashes overnight. Leftist groups hung out red and black flags, and banners calling on Erdogan to resign and declaring: “Whatever happens, there is no going back.”

In Ankara, police charged mostly teenage demonstrators and scattered them using teargas and water cannon late on Monday. Protesters had erected a barricade in the Kizilay government quarter and lit a fire in the road.

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 leaving for 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.”

The unrest delivered a blow to Turkish financial markets that have thrived under Erdogan. Shares fell more than 10 percent and the lira dropped to 16-month lows on Monday.

The United States called for restraint in a rebuke to its NATO ally. “We are concerned by the reports of excessive use of force by police,” Secretary of State John Kerry said.

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