Turkey’s prime minister will hold off on redevelopment plans for an Istanbul park until a court rules on the project. Just Thursday, the premier had given his "last warning" for protesters to end a sit-in at Gezi Park.
Overnight, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan met artists and members of Taksim Solidarity, named after the occupation of an Istanbul square. According to the group, Erdogan promised to abide by the outcome of a suit filed in an effort to stop the redevelopment of Gezi Park and would hold a referendum on the plans if the court found in the government's favor.
"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," Taksim Solidarity's 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."
A crackdown on the park two weeks ago triggered protests against Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) - an association of centrists and conservative religious elements. Police fired teargas and water cannon daily across the country. At least three people, including a police officer, died and about 5,000 were injured, according to the Turkish Medical Association.
Deputy AKP Chairman Huseyin Celik said that the meeting had gone well, but he reiterated the prime minister's position that the occupation had to end: "Our government has been very tolerant, as tolerant as it goes in a democracy," he said, "but I don't think the government will leave that place under occupation for long."
Istanbul Governor Huseyin Avni Mutlu spoke with protesters for five hours at a cafe. After listening to their demands that the government abandon plans to build a replica Ottoman-era barracks on the park at Taksim, Mutlu said he sensed flexibility among the protesters.
"We felt they showed sensitivity ... and did not have an unyielding stance regarding staying there," Mutlu told reporters.
Taksim Solidarity has announced that the group will decide by consensus what to do, leaving it unclear whether the protests might continue.
Crowded yet calm
Previously, Erdogan had discussed building over the park with opponents of the project, but refused to meet with Taksim Solidarity. Late on Thursday, he also appeared to suggest that hundreds of protesters, camped out in a ramshackle settlement of tents in Gezi Park, could be forcibly evicted, although Mutlu said later there were no such immediate plans.
"Our patience is at an end," Erdogan had said. "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."
That warning went ignored. On Thursday, Taksim, where police had fired teargas and sent thousands scurrying into side streets just two nights before, sat crowded but calm. A concert pianist played through the night for protesters as riot police looked on.
mkg/dr (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)