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Turkey protests test Obama’s ties with Erdogan – AP

WASHINGTON (AP) — Government crackdowns against protesters in Turkey could test the close ties between President Barack Obama and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a strategically important U.S. ally in a tumultuous region.

The demonstrations in Turkey, now in their second week, cropped up after Erdogan’s visit to the White House last month, which highlighted a variety of issues on which the U.S. needs Turkey’s help. They include quelling the violence in Syria, stabilizing Iraq and stemming Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Erdogan, known for his brash and stubborn leadership style, has responded to the public outcry by questioning the legitimacy of the protesters. On Tuesday, Erdogan told demonstrators his patience was running out, saying of the protests, “we have no tolerance for them.”

He spoke as hundreds of police in riot gear briefly fired tear gas canisters and rubber bullets at protestors in Istanbul’s central Taksim Square, forcing many protestors who had occupied the square into a nearby park. Some groups also clashed with police at one edge of the square, setting off fireworks, firebombs and throwing stones at a police water cannon.

The clash mirrored previous confrontations between Turkish police and protestors, which have also involved the use of tear gas and water cannons. Turkish authorities are trying halt demonstrations, which have spread to nearly 80 cities across the country.

James Jeffrey, who served as Obama’s ambassador to Turkey until 2010, said that in private discussions among U.S. officials “there’s some wincing at the statements by Erdogan.”

But in public, the White House has carefully avoided criticizing the prime minister directly, though the U.S. has urged Turkish authorities to exercise restraint. There also have been no known conversations between Obama and his Turkish counterpart since the protests began.

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