Sunday 25 February 2018

Erdogan asks park protesters to go

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has met anti-government protesters (AP)
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has met anti-government protesters (AP)
Protesters sleep on the marbles of Taksim Square near police water cannon trucks in Istanbul, Turkey (AP)
A protester relaxes on a bench next to a portrait of Mustafa Kamal Ataturk, founder of the modern Turkey, at Gezi Park, Taksim Square (AP)
Municipality workers collect rubbish from Taksim Square in Istanbul (AP)
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has warned protesters they will be removed from Taksim Square within 24 hours

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has asked a small delegation of protesters to persuade the hundreds of others occupying an Istanbul park to withdraw, hopefully by the end of the day.

Turkish activists leading a sit-in were considering a promise by Mr Erdogan to let the courts - and a potential referendum - decide the fate of an Istanbul park redevelopment project that has sparked Turkey's biggest protests in decades.

The pledge was made during last-ditch negotiations after Mr Erdogan had issued what he called a "final warning" to protesters.

The two-week stand-off has damaged his international reputation and led to repeated intervention by riot police. After initially inflaming tensions by dubbing the protesters "terrorists," the prime minister has moderated his stance in closed-door talks this week.

But he told party members today that the protesters in the park had "stayed long enough." He added: "'Go and speak to them ... Don't let us be forced into reverting to different measures,'" he said he had told the protesters' representatives.

Earlier, his ruling party announced the government would suspend a controversial construction plan for Istanbul's Gezi Park until courts could rule on its legality. Even if the courts sided with the government, a city referendum would be held to determine the plan's fate, officials said.

It remained far from clear, however, whether the overture would work. Mr Erdogan has pledged to end the protest but has also called upon his supporters to rally in Ankara and Istanbul this weekend. Those demonstrations could raise tension between his conservative, Islamic base and those occupying the park, who are mostly - but not all - liberal- and secular-minded.

The park is one of the few green areas left in the sprawling metropolis of Istanbul and many protesters were still seething over the forceful operations by riot police that at times devolved into violent clashes with stone- and firebomb-throwing youths and have killed five people.

Such scenes prompted the European Parliament on Wednesday to condemn the heavy-handed response by Turkish police. A May 31 police raid to clear out the park ignited demonstrations that morphed into broader protests against what many see as the prime minister's increasingly authoritarian style of government.

Mr Erdogan's opponents have grown increasingly suspicious about what they call a gradual erosion of freedoms and secular Turkish values under his Islamic-rooted party's government. It has passed new restrictions on alcohol and attempted but dropped a plan to limit women's access to abortion.

Press Association

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