Erdogan softens stance and asks protesters to withdraw from park
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.
Turkish activists leading a sit-in were last night considering a promise by Mr Erdogan to let the courts – and a potential referendum – decide the fate of the 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 said yesterday that the protesters in the park had stayed long enough. "Don't let us be forced into reverting to different measures," he told their representatives.
Earlier, his ruling party announced that the government would suspend a controversial construction plan for Istanbul's Gezi Park until courts could rule on its legality.
The park is one of the few green areas left in Istanbul, and protesters are still seething over the forceful operations by riot police that at times devolved into violent clashes with stone and firebomb-throwing youths. Five people have died.