ISTANBUL—With Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan set to return home on Thursday to his country’s biggest antigovernment protests in decades, senior officials from his party raced—so far unsuccessfully—to douse public anger that has become focused on the prime minister.
After Mr. Erdogan flew to North Africa on Monday for a state visit, President Abdullah Gul and Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc took a conciliatory tone, repeatedly reaching out to demonstrators who had transformed a small environmental protest last week into a nationwide outburst.
Mr. Arinc on Wednesday received a list of demands in a meeting with Taksim Solidarity, a group of lawyers, architects and doctors representing protesters angry at what they see as Mr. Erdogan’s heavy-handed and arrogant style of governance.
Mr. Erdogan had added fuel to the fire, after a crackdown last week on activists trying to halt the destruction of a central Istanbul park, by calling demonstrators a marginal group of bums and looters.
“The prime minister has made statements that smacked of civil war and insulted the public. After those words, the mass reaction has snowballed…into a demonstration where…