Gezi Park protesters win a concession, but Erdogan insists they must still leave

Court will decide on future of project that was catalyst for unrest across Turkey
  • @_richardhall

Video: Time lapse footage from Gezi Park

Protesters fighting to save an Istanbul Park from redevelopment claimed a small victory today after the Turkish government agreed to suspend controversial plans for the area until a court has ruled on the legality of the project. 

The concession on the fate of Gezi Park was seen as an attempt by the Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to address the central demand of protesters and bring an end to a wave of demonstrations that have rocked Turkey in the past two weeks. 

However the temporary reprieve did little to ease fears among those camped in the park, as Mr Erdogan again called on them to leave, saying they had “stayed long enough”.

“You have stayed here as long as you could and have relayed your message. If your message is about Gezi Park, it has been received and evaluated,” Mr Erdogan said. “Please now leave Gezi Park and go to your homes.”

A crackdown by police on what was initially a small demonstration against plans to build a shopping centre where the park now stands has sparked large-scale protests across Turkey. 

Five people have been killed in clashes between police and protesters, drawing condemnation from the international community, including the European Parliament. On Tuesday, police twice tried to clear nearby Taksim Square by firing volleys of tear gas into the crowd. Protesters responded by launching fireworks towards police, and violence continued into the early hours of the morning. 

Members of Taksim Solidarity, the umbrella group of organisations representing protesters camped in Gezi Park, met with Mr Erdogan in Ankara on Thursday evening in a bid to find a solution to the stand-off, which has shown little sign of abating.

Taksim Solidarity said Mr Erdogan had promised to abide by the outcome of a court case filed in an effort to stop the redevelopment and would hold a referendum on the plans if the court found in the government’s favour.

Tayfun Kahraman, a member of the protest group, told reporters following the meeting: “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.

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

Protester numbers have been buoyed by those angry at the police crackdown. Mr Erdogan’s opponents have also grown increasingly angry about what they see as the erosion of secular Turkish values under his Islamic-rooted party’s government, and over his authoritarian leadership style. Turkey recently passed new restrictions on alcohol and attempted to limit women’s access to abortion.

In Gezi Park yesterday afternoon, protesters showed little sign of wanting to take down their tents.

 Ali Can, a protester and resident of the park for the past week, pointed out: “[Mr Erdogan] did not agree to release those who have been arrested during protests. He did not agree to allow us use public squares for democratic meetings and he again told us to leave.”