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Turkey charges 255 over mass protests
Agence France Presse
People run away from tear gas during clashes with Turkish police on December 8, 2013 in Diyarbakir. AFP PHOTO / MEHMET ENGIN
People run away from tear gas during clashes with Turkish police on December 8, 2013 in Diyarbakir. AFP PHOTO / MEHMET ENGIN
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ISTANBUL, Turkey: Turkish prosecutors said Tuesday they have charged 255 protesters, including seven foreigners, over mass demonstrations that swept the country in June. 

Those indicted face a range of charges including violating laws on demonstrations, damaging a place of worship and protecting criminals, as well as injuring civil servants and hijacking public transport vehicles, a statement from the Istanbul public prosecutor's office said. 

It did not disclose the nationalities of the foreigners.

At least six people died and 8,000 people were injured in the three weeks of anti-government unrest that posed the biggest challenge to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's rule yet.

The demonstrations were sparked by a police crackdown on a peaceful sit-in to save Istanbul's Gezi park from being razed to make way for a development project.

The environmental campaign spiralled into a mass outpouring of anger against Erdogan, who critics say is an increasingly authoritarian and polarising leader after 11 years in office.

The Istanbul prosecutor's office also said 308 suspects were being investigated over 40 separate cases but it was not clear if these included the 255 charged.

Some of the protesters had taken refuge in the Dolmabahce mosque on the banks of the Bosphorus near the Ottoman palace which Erdogan uses as his office in the city.

Many were fleeing police firing tear gas and rubber bullets and the mosque was opened so injured protesters could receive medical aid.

Erdogan had accused some demonstrators of entering the mosque armed with beer bottles and wearing shoes, but this was denied by the imam, who was later discharged from his post.

Several trials related to the protests are already taking place across the country.

Last week, an Ankara court withdrew from the trial of a riot policeman accused of killing a 26-year-old protester during demonstrations in the capital because of concerns over its impartiality.

Prosecutors in the western city of Canakkale are also seeking a two-year jail term for a 13-year-old child on charges of damaging public property during the protests, Radikal newspaper reported on Tuesday.

Erdogan's government came under strong pressure from rights groups and its Western allies over its heavy-handed response to the demonstrations, the worst social turmoil in Turkey's modern history.

Last month, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muiznieks warned that Turkish police action against non-violent demonstrators could have a "chilling effect" on freedoms in a country seeking to join the European Union.

Turkey is heading into an election cycle beginning with municipal polls in March.

They are being seen as a key post-Gezi test of Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) which has won the last three parliamentary elections and took nearly half of the vote in 2011.

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