ISTANBUL  - Thousands of protesters in Istanbul celebrated a victory Saturday as police withdrew from Taksim square, in one of the largest demonstrations against Turkey’s Islamist-rooted government.

“Government, resign!” protesters shouted as riot police pulled back from the city’s central square, the epicentre of the demonstrations that have left dozens injured and earned Turkey a rare rebuke from its Western allies.

“We are here Tayyip, where are you?” they cried, shouting taunts to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

What began as an outcry against a local development project has snowballed into widespread anger against what critics say is the government’s increasingly conservative and authoritarian agenda. The unrest has spread to other cities across the country, with police on Saturday blocking a group of demonstrators from marching to parliament and the prime minister’s office in Ankara.

Erdogan has called for an immediate end to the violent protests and admitted there may have been some cases of “extreme” police action. “I call on the protesters to stop their demonstrations immediately,” Erdogan said in a speech, as clashes raged for a second day at Taksim square, a popular tourist destination and traditional rallying site in Istanbul. “It is true that there have been some mistakes, extremism in police response,” Erdogan added, and the interior ministry said legal action would be taken against police officers acting “disproportionately.”

The Turkish premier however remained defiant, vowing to push forward with controversial plans to redevelop the iconic Taksim square - the issue that had sparked the protests. “But our fight is not over either,” said 19-year-old law student Batuhan Kantas, sitting exhausted on the ground in the square. “We are still ruled by a prime minister who thinks people are lambs and declares himself the sultan.”

Turkey’s President Abdullah Gul meanwhile said the protests had reached a “worrisome level” and called on police and the demonstrators to act with restraint. Authorities said a dozen people were being treated in hospitals, but Amnesty International said more than 100 protesters were reportedly injured in clashes.

“We have become one fist,” 33-year-old Ataman Bet said as he swept up shattered glass outside his small coffee shop near Taksim. He noted that the protesters came from across the political spectrum, and even included some Erdogan supporters. “People are angry, I am so proud of them,” he said, calling the damage to his shop a “necessary sacrifice”.

The Istanbul protest began as a peaceful sit-in at Excursion Park across the iconic square. The demonstrators had been preventing workers from razing the last patch of trees in the commercial area to make way for the restoration of Ottoman era military barracks.

Local media reported that Istanbul police were running short of tear gas supplies, and that the units had been warned to use the gas sparingly. More than 60 people have been detained over the unrest, according to regional authorities.

Clashes raged during the night, with thousands of people marching through the city, some banging pots and pans as residents shouted support from the windows. Others held up cans of beer in defiance of the recent alcohol law by ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) that would bring severe restrictions to the sale and advertising of alcohol, which was seen by critics as the latest sign of creeping conservatism.

The US State Department said Turkey should uphold “fundamental freedoms of expression, assembly and association, which is what it seems these individuals were doing.”

 The British foreign office Saturday urged Turkey “to exercise restraint and not to use tear gas indiscriminately.”