Official: Police officer dies in Turkey protest

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ANKARA, Turkey (AP) - A police officer died after falling into an underpass while trying to subdue a protest in southern Turkey, a regional governor said Thursday, bringing the death toll in a week of protests to three.

Gov. Huseyin Avni Cos said the officer died in a hospital Thursday after falling into the underpass that was still under construction in Adana, on the Mediterranean coast, the previous night. He was trying to break up protests there.

Two protesters have been reported killed in protests that have erupted in some 70 cities, and one person is on life support in a hospital in Ankara. The Turkish Human Rights Foundation said some 4,300 people were hurt or sought medical care for the effects of tear gas.

The government says dozens of police officers have been injured.

The protests were sparked by the police breakup of a sit-in to prevent the demolition of a park in central Istanbul, but it spiraled into rallies by thousands denouncing what they say is the government's increasingly authoritarian form of governing and its meddling in lifestyles. They are also angered at what human rights groups have said is excessive use of force to disperse the protests.

Scrambling to contain tensions, Turkish officials have delivered more conciliatory messages to the thousands of protesters. Turkey's deputy prime minister offered an apology for the heavy-handed way the sit-in protest was rousted.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is due to return on Thursday from a four-day North African tour. All eyes will be on him to see if he also softens his line.

Huseyin Celik, deputy leader of Erdogan's Islamic-rooted party, said the government is sympathetic to secular-minded Turks'concerns and is prepared to take steps to "eliminate" their fears.

Besir Atalay, another deputy prime minister, added: "We are carrying out an analysis. We are trying to better understand all of the messages. We are very sensitive on the issue."

Celik has also called on party supporters not to come out in force to greet Erdogan when he arrives.

Police late on Wednesday used tear gas to disperse thousands who massed in central Ankara. Witnesses said police fired gas at a group taking refreshments at a tavern in an alleyway. A human rights group said "several people" were hospitalized.

Also Wednesday, the Dogan news agency said a group of some 15 people who gathered in the northern city of Rize on Turkey's Black Sea coast were attacked by a group supporting the Erdogan government.

Copyright Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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