Turkey Protests Turn Peaceful; Erdogan May Hold Referendum To Resolve Gezi Park Redevelopment Dispute

on June 13 2013 1:01 AM
  • Gezi Park
    Student protesters read as they rest next to their tents in Gezi Park near Istanbul's Taksim square on June 12, 2013. Reuters
  • Erdogan
    Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan steps on top of a bus to address his supporters as police guard him upon his arrival to Esenboga Airport in Ankara on June 9, 2013. Reuters
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Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday said he was open to the idea of holding a referendum on plans to redevelop Istanbul’s Gezi Park, the original flash point for anti-government protests, which have dragged on for almost two weeks.

Erdogan floated the idea as protesters staged a peaceful demonstration on Wednesday evening, after Tuesday’s overnight clashes with riot police in Taksim Square, located next to the park.

“We might put it to a referendum.... In democracies only the will of the people counts,” said Huseyin Celik, a spokesman for Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party, after talks between Erdogan and protest leaders, Agence France-Presse reported.

“We think that after this gesture of goodwill people will decide to go home.”

On May 31, police cracked down on protesters against the park's redevelopment, transforming the peaceful rally into a countrywide movement, which sometimes turned violent, to seek Erdogan's resignation.

The government’s proposal for a referendum on Wednesday drew mixed reactions from protesters on Twitter, with some welcoming the move while others expressed mistrust, BBC reported.

Turkish media reported on Wednesday that Erdogan had given an ultimatum to the interior minister to ensure that the protests in Gezi Park ended within a day. Erdogan met 11 activists but protest leaders backed out of the meeting.

Earlier this week, on Tuesday, police had marched in on protesters in Taksim Square to reclaim the area, before demolishing barricades and banners erected during demonstrations. On Wednesday, thousands of lawyers marched the streets of Istanbul and the Turkish capital, Ankara, to protest against a brief detention of more than 70 lawyers on Tuesday, after the police intervention in Taksim Square.

To prevent another police crackdown, the opposition sent more than 20 lawmakers to the park on Wednesday, BBC reported. Police did not enter Gezi Park, where hundreds have been camping since the protests began.

Meanwhile, in Ankara, on Wednesday, police dispersed a gathering of some 2,000 people in Tunali Street, AFP reported.

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