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Groups gather in Turkish protest park after night of clashes

A Gezi Park demonstrator sleeps in front of riot police vehicles at Taksim Square in Istanbul June 14, 2013. REUTERS/Murad Sezer
A Gezi Park demonstrator sleeps in front of riot police vehicles at Taksim Square in Istanbul June 14, 2013. REUTERS/Murad Sezer

By Ece Toksabay

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - An Istanbul park at the center of protests against Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's government reopened on Tuesday after a night of clashes between police and protesters, but the mood among the small groups of visitors was calm.

On Monday night, police fired teargas and water cannon at protesters as they tried to prevent them gathering in Gezi Park, which had been sealed off by police for three weeks after police expelled the residents of a protest camp there.

A group of young men and women sat on Tuesday under a hand-painted banner in the park saying "Welcome to the Taksim martyrs' park, 1977-2013", referring to more than 30 people who died in clashes at a May Day protest in Taksim Square in 1977.

Another group placed marble tiles on the grass bearing the names of four people who died during Gezi-related clashes last month and the name of a Kurdish youth shot dead in a protest against military outposts in southeast Turkey.

Children played on swings and locals rested on grass reading newspapers under a hot sun. There was only a limited police presence at the edges of the park.

At dusk on Tuesday the park will host the first of daily fast-breaking 'iftar' dinners during the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, a statement by the local municipality said.

"We are continuing the 20-year-old tradition of Gezi Park iftar dinners," local mayor Ahmet Misbah Demircan said.

"All the people of Istanbul are invited."

Two leftist Muslim groups sympathetic to the protests, the Revolutionary Muslims and Anti-Capitalist Muslims, will also stage iftar dinners in a nearby pedestrian street on Tuesday.

CLASHES

After a police crackdown on a small demonstration on May 31 against plans to redevelop Gezi Park, the protests grew into broader action against what critics see as Erdogan's increasingly authoritarian style of government.

Gezi Park reopened to visitors on Monday afternoon but hours later police forced people out due to concerns about a planned protest rally. Clashes ensued in nearby streets before police allowed people back into the park around midnight.

The Taksim Solidarity group of political parties and non-governmental organizations opposed to the park's redevelopment said police detained more than 80 people in Monday's clashes.

One seriously wounded youth, a 17-year-old who was hit by a gas canister, suffered a brain hemorrhage and was being treated at a nearby hospital, a medical association official said.

The Gezi protests have been unprecedented in Erdogan's rule, which began in 2002 with the election of his AK Party. He has pushed reforms in the economy and curtailed the power of a military that had toppled four governments in four decades.

A Turkish court has canceled the Taksim Square redevelopment project but the authorities can appeal against the ruling.

(Additional reporting by Can Sezer and Humeyra Pamuk; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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