* Teenager's death sparks unrest in cities across Turkey
* Tens of thousands gather for funeral in Istanbul
* Erdogan still seen prevailing at elections
(Adds Erdogan comments, police intervention)
By Dasha Afanasieva and Ayla Jean Yackley
ISTANBUL, March 12 Riot police clashed with
demonstrators in several Turkish cities for a second day on
Wednesday as mourners buried a teenager wounded in protests last
summer, unrest which a defiant Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan
cast as a plot against the state.
Police fired water cannon, tear gas and rubber pellets on a
major Istanbul avenue to stop tens of thousands of people
chanting anti-government slogans from reaching the central
Taksim square. There were similar scenes in the centre of the
capital Ankara and in the Aegean coastal city of Izmir.
Berkin Elvan's death on Tuesday after nine months in a coma
touched off the worst unrest in Turkey since the nationwide
anti-government demonstrations last June, adding to Erdogan's
woes as he battles a graft scandal that has become one of the
biggest challenges of his decade in power.
Crowds chanting "Tayyip! Killer!" and "Everywhere is Berkin,
everywhere is resistance" held up photos of the 15-year-old as
his coffin, draped in red and covered in flowers, was carried
from a "cemevi", an Alevi place of worship, through the streets
of Istanbul's working class Okmeydani district for burial.
Alevis are a religious minority in mainly Sunni Muslim
Turkey who espouse a liberal version of Islam and have often
been at odds with Erdogan's Islamist-rooted government.
Her voice hoarse with tears, Elvan's mother Gulsum cried out
"What am I to do now? They've taken my everything," after his
coffin was lowered into the ground at a leafy hill-top cemetery.
Erdogan, campaigning around the country for March 30 local
elections, failed to comment on Elvan's death at two campaign
rallies on Wednesday, railing instead against the protesters and
saying they would be silenced at the ballot box.
"Trying to set fire to the streets 18 days before elections
is not a democratic stance," he told throngs of supporters at a
rally in the southeastern city of Mardin.
He accused a coalition of "anarchists, terrorists and
vandals" as well as the opposition and an influential U.S.-based
Islamic cleric of stoking unrest to undermine him.
"Scenarios are being prepared to shatter the peace. They are
implementing new provocations to stir up the streets," he said,
calling on Turks to be vigilant against such "provocations".
Those attending the protests said Erdogan's silence on
Elvan's death, in contrast to President Abdullah Gul and other
public figures who issued messages of condolence, highlighted
how out of touch he was with a large segment of Turkish society.
"The lack of compassion, the polarising attitude ... and the
fact he behaves like an autocrat is what brought us here," said
Emre, 32, marching with his father-in-law.
The funeral ceremony was broadcast live on major television
news channels, some of which had been criticised for their scant
coverage of last June's unrest.
Elvan, then aged 14, got caught up in street battles in
Istanbul between police and protesters on June 16 while going to
buy bread for his family. He became a rallying point for
government opponents, who held vigils at the Istanbul hospital
where he lay in intensive care from a head trauma believed to
have been caused by a police tear gas canister.
Skirmishes on Tuesday following his death spread to cities
including Mersin on the Mediterranean coast, Samsun on the Black
Sea and the southern city of Adana.
On Wednesday, Istanbul protesters hurled firecrackers behind
police lines, while hundreds of people, including bystanders
caught up in the melee, took refuge in a shopping mall and a
hotel lobby as police fired tear gas and pepper spray.
Protesters stood by fires at barricades blocking roads
around the poor Okmeydani neighbourhood. Signs on shop windows
said stores would remain shut for two days, while traders sold
black and white flags bearing Berkin's face.
Two labour unions called a one-day strike while professors
at some universities announced they were cancelling classes.
In the eastern province of Tunceli, which has an Alevi
majority, around 1,000 school children marched across town and
staged a sit-in in front of the offices of the ruling AK Party.
The uncertainty in the run-up to elections has rattled
Turkish investors, with the lira languishing at its weakest in
five weeks, but has shown little sign so far of seriously
weakening Erdogan, fiercely popular in the conservative
Anatolian heartlands after a decade of rising prosperity.
"The recent barrage of corruption allegations ... appears to
have had little impact on Erdogan's electoral popularity, merely
deepening the political divides in an already highly polarised
society," said Wolfango Piccoli, managing director of research
firm Teneo Intelligence.
"(But) the death of a child on his way to buy bread for his
family is something that cuts across political divides and will
have particular resonance amongst the urban and rural poor who
form Erdogan's core support base."
Istanbul and Ankara have both seen protests in recent weeks
against what demonstrators regard as Erdogan's authoritarian
reaction to the graft affair, which has included new laws
tightening Internet controls and handing government greater
influence over the appointment of judges and prosecutors.
(Additional reporting by Daren Butler, Can Sezer and Evrim
Ergin in Istanbul, Jonny Hogg in Ankara, Ferit Demir in Tunceli;
Writing by Nick Tattersall; Editing by Gareth Jones)