Mr. Erdogan in a televised speech on Saturday morning vowed to go forward with a plan to remake a city park in Taksim Square into a replica Ottoman era army barracks and mall the move that set off the initial protests earlier in the week.
For many demonstrators however the protest has moved beyond that project and become a broad rebuke to the 10 year leadership of Mr. Erdogan and his Islamist rooted Justice and Development Party which they say has adopted authoritarian tactics.
Mr. Erdogan in his first comments on the growing unrest seemed determined to maintain the aggressive police response. His only conciliatory note was to promise to investigate claims of excessive police force against peaceful protesters on Friday that resulted in nearly 1 000 injuries according to the Turkish Doctors Association.
The police were here yesterday they will be there today and they will be there tomorrow in Taksim Mr. Erdogan said.
In late afternoon the police withdrew from Taksim Square and allowed tens of thousands of protesters to gather there unhindered. By evening no police officers were in sight and most of the protesters were gathered on the lawns of the square some drinking beer others chanting antigovernment slogans.
Others went on a rampage destroying buildings used by the construction company that had begun razing the park and throwing rocks at bulldozers.
The widening chaos here and the images it produces threaten to tarnish Turkey s image which Mr. Erdogan has carefully cultivated as a regional power broker able to shape the outcome of the Arab Spring revolutions by presenting itself as a model for the melding of Islam and democracy.
Now Turkey is facing its own civil unrest and the protesters have presented a long list of grievances against Mr. Erdogan and his government including opposition to its policies of supporting Syria s rebels against the government of President Bashar al Assad its crackdown on dissent its intimidation of the news media and unchecked development in Istanbul.
He criticized Assad but he s the same said Murat Uludag 32 who stood off to the side as protesters battled with police officers down an alleyway near the Pera Museum. He s crazy. No one knows what he s doing or thinking. He s completely crazy. Whatever he says today he will say something different tomorrow.
Many of the protesters some of whom voted for Mr. Erdogan said they had grown tired of his leadership which they said had become increasingly dictatorial. Mr. Erdogan still maintains a strong power base among religious conservatives who represent a large voting bloc.
When he first came to power he was a good persuader and a good speaker said Serder Cilik 32 who was sitting at a tea shop watching the chaos unfold. Mr. Cilik said he had voted for Mr. Erdogan in the past but would never do so again.
An older man standing nearby overhearing the conversation yelled Dictator
Mr. Cilik who is unemployed continued He brainwashed people with religion and that s how he got the votes. He fooled us. He s a liar and a dictator.
Protests that began days earlier as a peaceful sit in against the demolition of a central park have widened to neighborhoods across Istanbul and to other cities around the country including Ankara the capital. There was also a protest in New York on Saturday where about 500 people waved Turkish flags and denounced Mr. Erdogan.
In Istanbul the protests turned violent on Saturday as police forces tried to disperse people with tear gas and some protesters pelted them with rocks calling them murderers and fascists.
Police helicopters flew low over Istiklal Street a main pedestrian thoroughfare which would normally be clogged with tourists but on Saturday resembled a war zone with shops shuttered and antigovernment graffiti sprayed on some shop windows. Using the Turkish initials of Mr. Erdogan s party one message on the facade of a department store in blue spray paint read A.K.P. to the grave the people to reign.
As they winced and rubbed their eyes of tear gas protesters wagged their middle fingers at the helicopters and chanted that the government should step down.
On streets running off Istiklal young men tore up granite slabs from the sidewalk and bashed them against the road picking up the splintered pieces to throw at the police. On some streets protesters set up makeshift barricades with trash cans panels of wallboard from construction sites and potted plants taken from outside fancy hotels.
On another major boulevard protesters stopped a municipal water truck which they believed was on its way to refill the police water cannons and opened its valves flooding the street. Nearby protesters marched past the headquarters of the state television network T.R.T. shouting Burn the state media
Many of the protesters complained about the lack of coverage on Turkish television and said the silence of much of the local news media would help the protest movement grow because people unable to see events on television would want to see them for themselves. Some newspapers also were largely silent on the protests on Saturday morning the lead story in Sabah a major pro government newspaper was about Mr. Erdogan s promoting a campaign against smoking.
His party has accused opposition parties of stoking the protests and in the late afternoon Mr. Erdogan weighed in on Twitter Their issue is how can we hit the A.K.P. Wherever they try to hit us we will stand tall and strong.
Colin Moynihan contributed reporting from New York.