Turkish protest group refuses to end Istanbul park sit-in | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 15.06.2013
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Turkish protest group refuses to end Istanbul park sit-in

The umbrella protest group Taksim Solidarity has vowed to continue its occupation of Gezi Park in Istanbul despite government concessions. Premier Erdogan had agreed to let the courts rule on the park's redevelopment.

Taksim Solidarity announced on Saturday that its protests would continue in Istanbul, as police used tear gas and water cannon to disperse protesters in the capital, Ankara.

"We will continue our resistance in the face of any injustice and unfairness taking place in our country," the group announced in a press release after all-night discussions with campers in Gezi Park. The group vowd to "continue to keep watch over our park."

On Friday, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with members of Taksim Solidarity, making his first concession since the protests began on May 31. Erdogan said that he would let the courts decide whether or not the redevelopment of the Istanbul park was legal, adding that a referendum may also be held on the issue.

Erdogan's meeting with Taksim Solidarity came after he had issued a "last warning" for the protesters to clear Gezi Park. The prime minister had originally staked out a hard-line stance against the unrest, referring to the protesters as "looters" and "extremists," while calling Twitter a "plague."

'It's not just about the trees'

After backing off his vow to continue with the park's redevelopment, Erdogan called again for the protesters to go home, saying that they had made their point.

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

The protests originally began as a peaceful sit-in to stop some 600 trees from being razed in Gezi Park as part of a development project. But the sit-in quickly escalated into nationwide protests against Erdogan's government after police launched a widely condemned crackdown.

"We won't go - why would we when we have come this far?" 43-year-old Mustafa, a protester at Gezi Park, told the AFP news agency. "There's no going back ... It's not just about the trees."

More than 5,000 protesters have been injured during the two weeks of unrest and four people have died. Police have deployed tear gas and water cannon, while protesters have thrown fireworks and Molotov cocktails at security forces.

The United States and several members of the European Union have condemned the government's response to the unrest. Turkey is a NATO member and close ally of the West, which often heralds Ankara as a model example of Islamic democracy.

slk/mkg (AP, AFP)