Turkey's deputy prime minister apologized Tuesday for "excessive violence" by police against protesters, in a sharp contrast with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's defiant dismissal of his critics.
But fresh violence erupted early Wednesday as protesters defied the plea to end days of deadly unrest, AFP reported.
Police used tear gas and water cannon on hundreds of protesters, who ignored warnings to disperse in Istanbul, Ankara and the southern city of Hatay, where a young protester died a day earlier.
With Erdogan abroad, touring North Africa while his country is in crisis, and strikes and demonstrations still rumbling on after five days, Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc sought to assuage some of the anger at the initial hardline response to what began as a sit-in against plans to build on an Istanbul park.
"The excessive violence that was used in the first instance against those who were behaving with respect for the environment is wrong and unfair," Arinc told a news conference in the capital Ankara, Reuters reported. "I apologize to those citizens."
"But," he added, "I don't think we owe an apology to those who have caused damage in the streets and tried to prevent people's freedom."
Arinc said he would meet some of the organizers of the original protest, campaigning against plans to build a replica Ottoman barracks on Istanbul's Gezi Park next to Taksim Square.
The gesture seemed too little too late to end what has become a national outpouring of anger at Erdogan's authoritarian style and Islamist inclinations, during which two people have been killed and thousands injured, drawing alarm from Turkey's Western allies in NATO at his response to the worst riots in decades.
Shops were shuttered on a main avenue leading to Taksim Square Tuesday, as thousands of demonstrators chanting anti-government slogans marched by for a fifth day. Barricades of rubble blocked other streets leading to the square and tear gas hung in the air.
The Wall Street Journal reported an almost festive atmosphere in the square.
Masked girls danced to Turkish folk songs blaring from tinny speakers. Abandoned buses, caked in anti-Erdogan graffiti, became makeshift climbing frames for young children. Protesters carrying trash bags helped municipal workers keep the area tidy. Tourists snapped photos as cafes on the square do a bristling trade.
"We're grateful for the people who are helping us defend the square. The longer we stay here, the more chance we have to change things," said an architecture student gathering the names of volunteers to help maintain the encampment.
Fans from rival football teams Galatasaray, Besiktas and Fenerbahce linked arms, united in protest, AFP reported.
At the nearby Opera hotel, however, visitor numbers have plummeted in what should be peak season. In the hotel's top floor restaurant, staff complained that they have been trapped inside until sunrise because of the volume of the tear gas settling in the area.
"But we keep the door unlocked all night to shelter protesters who are choking," said a waiter.
The protests have included a broad spectrum of people opposed to Erdogan, some accusing him of an Islamist agenda that seeks to erode the secular foundations of the republic founded by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk 90 years ago, others opposed more broadly to what they say is his autocratic style.
Labor unions joined the demonstrations Tuesday, adding to pressure on the government to acknowledge the grievances of a part of the population, even while it defends its actions as having the support of the majority who elected it.
"We are protesting the dictatorial nature of this government, which is against secular people," said one among more than a dozen lawyers dressed in formal black court robes, heading a procession of public sector workers.
"We are here to protect the legacy of Ataturk and the Turkish state, which is the state we work for."
Behind them, a group of actors from a state theater carried banners showing an opera mask weeping a blood-red tear, flanked by union representatives in baseball caps and members of the Turkish Communist Party.
A 22-year-old member of the main opposition youth wing died after being hit in the head at a rally in the southern town of Antakya near the Syrian border late on Monday, the second death after a taxi hit a protester in Istanbul on Sunday.
A rally for the Antakya victim, whom medics said appeared to have been hit by a gas canister, was planned later in Ankara.
Four other people were in a critical condition, the Turkish Doctors' Association said, while around 3,000 had suffered light injuries such as breathing difficulties or minor lacerations.