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Turkey mulls referendum on Taksim park plan

Government willing to hold vote on Istanbul redevelopment plan that triggered weeks of protests, spokesman says.

Last Modified: 13 Jun 2013 01:01
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Late Wednesday in Ankara, police used tear gas and water cannon to break up some 2,500 protesters [Reuters]

A spokesman for Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's party has said the government is open to holding a referendum over an Istanbul development plan that has underpinned nearly two weeks of mass protests.

The announcement from AK party spokesman Huseyin Celik came after talks between Erdogan and a group of activists on Wednesday.

It amounts to the first big gesture by his government to end a standoff with protesters in Istanbul's Taksim Square and beyond.


Earlier in the day, President Abdullah Gul called for dialogue with non-violent demonstrators after riot police cleared the square.

Gul, who has taken a more conciliatory tone than Erdogan during the unrest, said it was the duty of the government to engage with its critics but appeared to close ranks with the prime minister, saying violent protests were a different matter.

The protests, which have turned into riots met with tear gas and water cannon, began as a peaceful campaign against redevelopment plans of Gezi Park in Taksim Square.

"If people have objections ... then to engage in a dialogue with these people, to hear out what they say is no doubt our duty," Gul told reporters.

"Those who employ violence are something different and we have to distinguish them ... We must not give violence a chance ... This would not be allowed in New York, this would not be allowed in Berlin," the president said during a visit to the Black Sea coast.

Riot police fought running battles with groups of protesters overnight, clearing Taksim. By dawn, the square was strewn with wreckage from bulldozed barricades but taxis crossed it for the first time since the troubles started.

Several hundred people remained in an encampment of tents in Gezi Park.

In a skirmish late Wednesday in Ankara, police used tear gas and water cannon to break up some 2,500 protesters who set up makeshift barricades on a road leading to government offices.

Taksim Solidarity, an umbrella group for the demonstrators, said the delegation meeting with Erdogan was not representative and the meeting little more than symbolic.

"Had Solidarity spoken with anyone in this group to share information, the meeting with the prime minister would have meaning. Now it doesn't," said Bulent Muftuoglu, a leading figure in Solidarity and an official of Turkey's Greens Party.

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