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Turkey's PM calls protesters 'a handful of looters'

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June 9, 2013: Turkish protesters gather at a barricade before they clash with riot police stationed on the John F. Kennedy Street, in front of the U. S. embassy in Turkish capital, Ankara. Tens of thousands of people thronged Istanbul's Taksim Square Saturday, and thousands more turned out in central Ankara as protests that have presented Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan with the first serious challenge to his leadership entered their second week. (AP)

Turkey's prime minister remained defiant on Sunday after 10 days of anti-government protests, traveling to two cities where unrest has occurred and condemning the demonstrators as "a handful of looters."

In the southern city of Adana, where pro- and anti-government protesters had clashed Saturday night, Recep Tayyip Erdogan made a fiery speech from the top of a bus.

"We won't do what a handful of looters have done. They burn and destroy. ... They destroy the shops of civilians. They destroy the cars of civilians," Erdogan told supporters who had greeted him at Adana airport. "They are low enough to insult the prime minister of this country."

He urged his supporters to avoid violence themselves and predicted that his Islamic-rooted party would defeat his opponents during local elections in March.

"As long as you walk with us, the Justice and Development Party administration will stand strong," Erdogan said, referring to his party. "As long as there is life in my body, your prime minister and your party chairman, God willing, will not be deterred by anything."

He then traveled to the city of Mersin, where anti-protests have been held, to make a similar speech and to open new sports facilities.

Later Sunday, Erdogan was scheduled to travel to Ankara, the capital, where supporters are again expected to greet him in a show of force.

In Adana late Saturday, a pro-government group hurled stones at marching anti-government demonstrators, the state-run Anadolu Agency said. Police evacuated women and children, but the two groups continued to clash with stones and batons.

It was the second time in the last 10 days of protests that pro- and anti- demonstrated had fought with one another. On Thursday, party supporters attacked about 30 protesters in the city of Rize, on Turkey's Black Sea coast.

The nationwide anti-government protests were sparked by outrage over police use of force against an environmental protest in Istanbul on May 31, and have grown into a display of discontent toward Erdogan's government.

Many accuse the prime minister of becoming increasingly authoritarian after 10 years in power and of trying to impose his conservative, religious mores in the country which is governed by secular laws.

Erdogan has rejected the accusations, insisting he respects all lifestyles and is the "servant" of his people.

Tens of thousands of people gathered in Istanbul's Taksim Square on Saturday, joined by thousands of fans from Istanbul's rival football teams, Fenerbahce, Galatasaray and Besiktas, who had set aside their usual enmity to oppose the government.

There also were mass anti-Erdogan protests in Ankara and the in the city of Izmir. Police in Ankara fired tear gas and used water cannons to disperse thousands of people protesting near government buildings.