Turkish protesters vow to stay put in park, despite PM's concession

Group vows to stay put despite PM offering to halt redevelopment of Gezi Park in Istanbul

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 16 June, 2013, 8:53am


Turkish protesters hunkered down in an Istanbul park yesterday, rejecting an olive branch the government had hoped would end two weeks of nationwide civil unrest.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's offer to halt the redevelopment of Gezi Park - that ignited the protests - was presented as a major concession, but after conferring all night the protesters said their movement was about something bigger than a conservation struggle.

"We will continue our resistance in the face of any injustice and unfairness taking place in our country," said the Taksim Solidarity group, seen as most representative of the protesters. "This is only the beginning."

It looked set to inflame tensions a day after Erdogan offered to halt the Gezi Park project until a court ruled on its legality, his first major conciliatory gesture yet in a bid to end the biggest challenge of his Islamist-rooted government's decade-long rule.

"Young people, you have remained there long enough and delivered your message. Why are you staying?" Erdogan said in a televised speech.

In the capital, Ankara, meanwhile, riot police again fired tear gas and water cannon to disperse demonstrators overnight.

Tens of thousands of backers of the prime minister also rallied yesterday in a powerful show of support. Erdogan told his supporters from his Justice and Development party that they represented the "silent masses" - while inveighing against those behind a "plot" against his government.

A peaceful sit-in to save the Gezi Park's 600 trees from being razed prompted a brutal police response on May 31, spiralling into nationwide rallies against Erdogan, seen as increasingly authoritarian.

After taking a combative stance, dismissing the protesters as looters and extremists, Erdogan on Friday held his first talks with Taksim Solidarity.

He agreed to abide by a court-ordered suspension of the project - a move welcomed by protesters. He also said that if the court ruled that the Gezi Park redevelopment was legal, he wanted to hold a popular vote on plans to build a replica of Ottoman-era military barracks on the site.

Taksim Solidarity said the government had failed to address demands, including a call for arrested protesters to be released and for police chiefs to be sacked.