ISTANBUL - Labor groups fanned a wave of defiance against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's authority on Monday, leading rallies and a one-day strike to support activists whose two-week standoff with the government has shaken Turkey's secular democracy.
Riot police again deployed in Turkey's two main cities, and authorities kept up their unyielding stance against the street demonstrations. But Monday's police sweep was less forceful than in recent days - with only scattered firing of tear gas and water cannon on pockets of protesters.
After activists were ousted from their sit-in in Istanbul's Gezi Park over the weekend, two labor confederations that represent some 330,000 workers picked up the slack Monday by calling a strike and demonstrations nationwide. Unionists turned up by the thousands in Ankara, Istanbul, coastal Izmir and elsewhere.
The turnout defied Turkey's interior minister, Muammer Guler, who warned that anyone taking part in unlawful demonstrations would "bear the legal consequences." But one analyst called the rallies a "legitimate and a lawful expression of constitutional rights."
"People are raising their voices against the excessive use of police force," said Koray Caliskan, a political science professor at Istanbul's Bosphorus University. De-monstrators, he said, were showing they were no longer cowed by authorities, and "the fear threshold has been broken."
In a sign that authorities were unbowed and increasingly impatient, Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc floated the prospect that authorities could call in troops to quash the protests.
Erdogan's opponents have grown increasingly suspicious about what they call a gradual erosion of freedoms and secular values under his Islamic-rooted ruling party. It has passed new curbs on alcohol and tried, but later abandoned, plans to limit women's access to abortion.
The government set off protests nationwide and drew criticism abroad over a police crackdown that began May 31 against environmentalists and other activists in Istanbul's Taksim Square who were protesting against plans to tear down trees and redevelop the adjacent Gezi Park. Thousands have flooded the streets nightly since then.