Nightly News   |  June 11, 2013

Turkey clashes intensify as police crackdown on protesters

In what became the worst Turkey clashes in a decade, police used water cannons and tear gas as protesters fired back with stones and Molotov cocktails. The demonstrators complain of brutality, saying Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan is imposing an Islamic agenda in secular Turkey. NBC’s Richard Engel reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> good evening, i'm lester holt in for brian tonight. we begin with a fiery and dramatic crackdown on anti-government protesters in turkey. an important american ally feeling the heat tonight. if you were watching cable news today, you saw it all unfold live. police moving in with tear gas , trying to remove protest iers from istanbul 's square. and protesters fighting back with gasoline. today things reached a whole new level. in the middle of it all has been our chief foreign correspondent richard engel . he joins us from above istanbul 's taksim square where the air is apparently still thick with tear gas .

>> reporter: it is full of tear gas , that's why i'm wearing this mask. the clashes are on going. still, it doesn't feel like an arab spring moment or turning point. if these clashes continue, it could become a problem for turkey, one of the most stable countries in the region. police moved in around 7:00 a.m ., and sparked the worst clashes in turkey in a decade. police used tear gas and water cannons. the protesters stoned and molotov cocktails . protesters set a police vehicle on fire and the police pulled back.

>> the protesters are digging in, fortifying the square, building barricades, preparing for a drawn out struggle with the government.

>> this protest has been going on now for nearly two weeks. it started as an effort to save this park, but it's well beyond that now. the demonstrators complain of police brutality . and the prime minister is imposing an islamic agenda in secular turkey.

>> our prime minister is a dictator.

>> they're trying to limit our rights of liberty and showing our ideas.

>> by evening, taksim filled again, more than 10,000 demonstrators shouting against the prime minister. it seemed like the violence was over. but it turned again. suddenly in the biggest crackdown of the day. hundreds of riot police and their vehicles charged in. there was a stampede as protesters rushed to escape. some fell, some injured. fires, more tear gas .

>> it's being fired -- i don't want to say at random, but with such intensity, it's even coming up to the upper balcony of what are private homes and private businesses.

>> a decision had been taken to take back the square. this is now a challenge over the nature of this country. erdogan's islamic democracy . they're determined to defend. many watching events here tonight are with prime minister erdogan, and say this crackdown is something the protesters brought upon themselves, their just rewards.

>> richard engel in istanbul tonight,