Turkish PM to delay Istanbul park project

Protesters say Recep Tayyip Erdogan told them in meeting he will wait for court decision before redeveloping Gezi Park.

Turkish protesters who have met Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Edorgan to resolve anti-government demonstrations sparked by a plan to redevelop a city park have said he will delay the project until a court rules on it.

Erdogan met overnight on Thursday with representatives of Taksim Solidarity, an umbrella protest group, as well as actors and artists.

The talks came just hours after the prime minister said his patience had run out and warned protesters occupying Gezi Park to leave.

Taksim Solidarity said Erdogan had promised to abide by the outcome of an ongoing court case filed in an effort to stop the redevelopment of Gezi Park in Istanbul.

Erdogan would also hold a referendum on the plans if the court ruled in the government’s favour, the group’s members said.

“The prime minister said that if the results of the public vote turned out in a way which would leave this area as a park, they will abide by it,” Tayfun Kahraman told reporters following the meeting.

“His comments that the project will not be executed until the judiciary makes its decision is tonight’s positive result.”

Unprecedented protests

The protest over the park exposed simmering tensions within the country between secularists and Erdogan’s Islamic-rooted government.

The government wants to build a replica Ottoman-era barracks, which will house a shopping centre, on the park, which adjoins Taksim Square, the epicentre of the protests.

A police crackdown in the park nearly two weeks ago triggered an unprecedented wave of protest against Erdogan and his ruling AK (Justice and Development) Party.

The protests have drawn people from many areas of society, including professionals, unionists and students.

Police fired teargas and water cannon day after day in cities including the capital of Ankara last week, while youths threw stones and petrol bombs in Turkey’s worst unrest in years.

Three people, including a police officer, have died and about have been 5,000 injured, according to the Turkish Medical Association.

Huseyin Celik, the deputy chairman of the AK Party who also attended the talks, said the meeting had been positive, but he reiterated Erdogan’s position that the occupation had to end.

“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,” he said.

Separately, Istanbul Governor Huseyin Avni Mutlu offered to meet demonstrators from Taksim.

‘Face-to-face’ talks

“For those who want to talk face to face tonight, from midnight we will talk in groups, if necessary until morning,” Mutlu said on his Twitter account.

Erdogan has already discussed the plans to build over the park with various people who support the protesters, but had initially refused to meet with the Taksim Solidarity group at the heart of the campaign to protect it.

Late on Thursday, he appeared to suggest that hundreds of protesters, camped out in a ramshackle settlement of tents in Gezi Park, could be cleared out, although Mutlu said later there were no such immediate plans.

“Our patience is at an end. I am making my warning for the last time. I say to the mothers and fathers, please take your children in hand and bring them out … Gezi Park does not belong to occupying forces but to the people,” Erdogan said.

Taksim remained crowded but calm overnight. Some of the assembled masses chanted and danced while others listened to a concert pianist who has taken up residence amid the protesters as riot police looked on. 

Source: News Agencies