ISTANBUL -Thousands of Turkish protestors flooded back onto Istanbul’s Taksim Square late Tuesday in defiance of government calls to end days of protests.

Bellowing, whistling crowds flooded Taksim, AFP reporters saw, after Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc tried to calm protests by saying the government had “learnt its lesson”.

A flag-waving crowd of mostly left-wing political activists had gathered in the afternoon and was joined at nightfall by a swarm of football supporters who marched from the stadium of local football club Besiktas.

Turkish pipe music and singing blared over speakers as the crowd clapped and danced in a markedly more festive atmosphere than the tense rallies of the past five days.

In the capital Ankara meanwhile, residents reprised their nightly protest ritual of banging pots and pans, leaning from their windows or marching in the street. Some waved red and white Turkish flags and drivers honked their horns. “Tayyip, resign!” they yelled.

Turkey’s Islamic-rooted government apologised earlier Tuesday to protestors who were wounded when the clashes erupted last week in the biggest challenge to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan since he took power a decade ago.

Two people have been killed in the clashes, officials and medics say, and rights groups say thousands have been injured while the government puts the figure at around 300.

Arinc called on “responsible citizens” to stop the protests, but the demonstrators on Taksim, the cradle of the protests, defied his message. They repeated their charges that Erdogan was imposing conservative Islamic reforms on the predominantly Muslim but constitutionally secular nation.

The United Nations joined Washington in pressing for a full investigation into allegations of police violence against anti-government demonstrators, while Turkey’s main union federation launched a two-day strike over what it branded “state terror”.

Erdogan’s embattled government sought to ease tensions, admitting that actions by security forces against people with “rightful demands” had driven the situation out of hand.

“I apologise to those who were subject to violence because of their sensitivity for the environment,” Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said at a press conference, referring to the first protestors injured when clashes erupted on Friday.

“The government has learnt its lesson from what happened,” he added. “We do not have the right and cannot afford to ignore people. Democracies cannot exist without opposition.”

Arinc said clashes had left about 300 people wounded in five days although rights groups and doctors have put the number of injured in the thousands and two people have been killed. He called on “responsible citizens” to stop the protests, but hundreds of demonstrators defied his message and returned peacefully within hours to Taksim Square, the cradle of the protests in Istanbul.

They repeated their charges that Erdogan was imposing conservative Islamic reforms on the predominantly Muslim but constitutionally secular nation. “If they step back, if they change something in Turkey, the conservatism and the things they’ve done, then maybe the crowd can go home,” said Didem Kul, a 24-year-old student on Taksim square.

“But we can’t go home without having a demonstration. And even if we go home, the feelings won’t change.”

Overnight, riot police in the cities of Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir fired tear gas and water cannons at protesters who set cars ablaze, hurled stones and bellowed angry slogans against Erdogan and his Islamic-leaning policies, chanting “Tayyip, Resign!”

Erdogan has remained defiant, blaming “extremists” for the clashes and dismissing critics who branded him a “dictator” as he pressed ahead with a tour of north Africa despite the trouble at home.

The Istanbul stock market tumbled to close 10 per cent lower on Monday and recovered by nearly five percent on Tuesday after Arinc’s comments. The violence first erupted after police cracked down on a peaceful rally in Istanbul against plans to build over Gezi Park, a rare green spot adjoining Taksim Square. It quickly swelled into broader protests in dozens of other cities.

One protester was killed in the southern city of Antakya on Monday, local officials said, and doctors said a young man was killed in Istanbul on Sunday when a car ploughed into a crowd of demonstrators.