Turkish police moved in Saturday night in a quick military-style operation, using water cannons and bulldozers to clear Taksim Square, where protesters have been gathering. NBC's Richard Engel reports.
ISTANBUL, Turkey - Police fired tear gas inside a hotel being used as a protest base late Saturday as authorities forcefully cleared Taksim Square ahead of a Sunday rally by the ruling AK Party.
Police moved into square – scene of days of often violent demonstrations - in a quick military-style operation that threatens to reignite anger at the government of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan.
In a further sign of tension, Istanbul's governor said Sunday that a planned demonstration in Taksim Square would not be allowed to go ahead.
Deep divisions in this country are becoming even more distinct as the public disorder drags on.
Using water cannons and bulldozers, officers were able to clear both the square and Gezi Park, the leafy corner that protesters say will be destroyed by redevelopment plans.
Police got much more aggressive in the small streets around the square, and fired tear gas inside the Divan Hotel which protesters were using as a base.
Some of those inside the hotel fainted and others went limp. In an enclosed space, the gas is far more powerful and can even be lethal.
The tactic drew condemnation from activists, who posted pictures of the scenes inside the hotel on Twitter.
The Occupy Gezi group said police had also entered a nearby Hilton hotel to which some protesters had fled.
Earlier Saturday, Erdogan addressed a rally of thousands of supporters in the capital, Ankara.
"We have our Istanbul rally tomorrow. I say it clearly: Taksim Square must be evacuated, otherwise this country's security forces know how to evacuate it," he said, according to Al Jazeera.
Sunday's AK Party rally is being held away from Taksim Square to avoid clashes with protesters, but the square remains a potential flashpoint.
Protests that started as an outcry against a local development project in Taksim Square have snowballed into widespread anger against what critics say is the government's increasingly conservative and authoritarian agenda.
Erdogan refers to the protesters as troublemakers and is vowing to restore order by clearing Taksim Square and other protest sites around Turkey.
But even some of his supporters say he may be overstepping and that by using so much force he is turning what began as a small protest into a major civil movement against his rule.
On Thursday, Erdogan told protesters at talks he would put on hold plans to build a replica Ottoman-era barracks in Gezi Park until a court rules on the issue, raising hopes of an end to the clashes.
NBC News' Alastair Jamieson contributed to this report.
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This story was originally published on Sun Jun 16, 2013 8:39 AM EDT