Court to rule on controversial Istanbul park development plans

Saturday 15 June 2013 00.12
A police crackdown in Gezi Park nearly two weeks ago triggered an unprecedented wave of protest against Tayyip Erdogan
A police crackdown in Gezi Park nearly two weeks ago triggered an unprecedented wave of protest against Tayyip Erdogan

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has told protesters he would put redevelopment plans for an Istanbul park on hold until a court rules on them.

He struck a more conciliatory tone after two weeks of fierce anti-government demonstrations.

Mr Erdogan again called on the hundreds of protesters still occupying Gezi Park to withdraw.

But the atmosphere in their settlement of tents was defiant, with a hard core of demonstrators still chanting for him to resign.

Financial markets rose on hopes that environmentalists who oppose the construction at Gezi Park would be satisfied.

However it remained unclear whether other protesters with a wide variety of grievances against Mr Erdogan would go home.

"You have stayed here as long as you could and have relayed your message. If your message is about Taksim Gezi Park, it has been received and evaluated," Mr Erdogan said at a meeting of his AK Party.

"Please now leave the Gezi Park and go to your homes."

Mr Erdogan's pledge at an overnight meeting with a delegation of his opponents was largely symbolic as the government is required by law to respect the outcome of the court ruling brought by the environmentalists trying to block the plan.

But it contrasted with his earlier defiance when he attacked protesters who accuse him of autocratic behaviour as "riff-raff" and insisted the plans would go ahead in the adjacent park.

"Of course the government respects judicial rulings and is obliged to implement them," said Huseyin Celik, deputy chairman of the ruling AK Party.

"Until the judicial ruling is finalised there will not be any action whatsoever on Gezi Park."

A police crackdown on peaceful campaigners in the park two weeks ago provoked an unprecedented wave of protest against Mr Erdogan and his AK Party - an association of centrists and conservative religious elements - drawing in secularists, nationalists, professionals, trade unionists and students.

A 26-year-old Turkish man died today from injuries sustained during days of protests in Ankara, the fourth person to be killed in violence in various cities which left 5,000 injured, according to the Turkish Medical Association.

At the overnight meeting, Mr Erdogan met a delegation made up largely of actors and artists but also including two members of the umbrella protest group Taksim Solidarity.

The delegation welcomed what they said was Mr Erdogan's promise to respect the outcome of the court case filed against the plans to build a replica Ottoman-era barracks.

That commitment followed an offer on Wednesday of a referendum on the plans if the court found in the government's favour.

But other demands including the release of detained protesters had not been met, Tayfun Kahraman, who was part of the delegation, told protesters from a stage in the park.

"We stood together and we stood tall," Mr Kahraman said. "We told the prime minister that human dignity was trampled on by excessive use of police violence."

But his audience was sceptical.

"You stayed four hours and got nothing," shouted one man in the crowd, which began chanting "government resign".

Taksim Solidarity said it would consult among the various groups in the park before deciding how to respond. Mr Erdogan has repeatedly said the protesters, who have been braced for a possible police intervention for days, must leave.

"Our government has been very tolerant, as tolerant as it goes in a democracy, but I don't think the government will leave that place under occupation for long," Mr Celik said.

The ferocity of the initial police crackdown on what began as a peaceful protest in Gezi Park shocked even some of Mr Erdogan's supporters and sparked international criticism.

The United States has voiced concern about reports of excessive use of police force, while the European Parliament warned the government yesterday against using harsh measures against peaceful protesters and urged Mr Erdogan to take a "unifying and conciliatory" stance.

The comments were not welcomed by the Turkish government.

"Turkey is not a nation that needs to be taught a lesson in any way on these topics by any country or by any group of countries," Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said.

Mr Erdogan has accused foreign forces, international media and market speculators of stoking unrest and trying to undermine the economy, describing it as a "game being played with Turkey".

"It is as if the whole of Turkey is on fire, as if the whole of Turkey is collapsing," he said of some media coverage.

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