Turkish police used water cannon and tear gas Saturday to clear Istanbul's Taksim Square and adjacent Gezi Park, ending an 18-day occupation by anti-government protesters, Efe confirmed.

Police used pressurized pepper spray indiscriminately against people camped out at the park, including whole families and reporters covering the raid.

The anti-riot police entered the park from Taksim Square, while the demonstrators ran out through the opposite end amid scenes of panic.

Police have begun to take down the tents and makeshift stands that the "indignant" protesters had set up during their 18-day occupation, symbols of the most significant anti-government unrest in Turkey over the past decade.

The protest began as a rejection of government plans to raze the park to build a replica of an Ottoman-era military barracks and a shopping mall, but it expanded into a broader movement against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government, which the demonstrators say has become increasingly authoritarian.

Numerous ambulances had made their way to the entrance of the park, where several water tanks and a large number of riot-police had earlier been dispatched.

The raid occurred just hours after Erdogan had warned that police would forcibly clear the park by Sunday.

The government had sounded a conciliatory tone after a meeting late Thursday and early Friday in Ankara with protest leaders, pledging to postpone redevelopment plans for the park until after a court ruled on a challenge brought by environmentalists.

Erdogan's administration also promised to launch an investigation into police violence during more than two weeks of civil unrest and to put the park project to a referendum if the court ruled in the government's favor.

Representatives of the Taksim Solidarity network, an umbrella group for the protesters, expressed satisfaction with the meeting but many demonstrators said they did not recognize that group's leadership and refused to leave the park. EFE