Turkish premier urges protest delegation to help end battles in park

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Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan yesterday asked a small delegation of protesters to persuade the hundreds of others occupying an Istanbul park to withdraw.

Turkish activists leading a sit-in were considering a promise by Mr Erdogan to let the courts – and a potential referendum – decide the fate of an Istanbul park redevelopment project that has sparked Turkey’s biggest protests in decades.

The pledge was made during last-ditch negotiations after Mr Erdogan had issued what he called a “final warning” to protesters.

The two-week standoff has damaged his international reputation and led to repeated intervention by riot police. After initially inflaming tensions by dubbing the protesters “terrorists,” the prime minister has moderated his stance in closed-door talks this week.

But he told party members today that the protesters in the park had “stayed long enough.”

“’Go and speak to them ... Don’t let us be forced into reverting to different measures,’” he said he had told the protesters’ representatives.

Earlier, his ruling party announced the government would suspend a controversial construction plan for Istanbul’s Gezi Park until courts could rule on its legality. Even if the courts sided with the government, a city referendum would be held to determine the plan’s fate, officials said. It remained far from clear, however, whether the overture would work.

Mr Erdogan has pledged to end the protest but has also called upon his supporters to rally in Ankara and Istanbul this weekend. Those demonstrations could raise tension between his conservative, Islamic base and those occupying the park, who are mostly – but
not all – liberal and secular-minded.

The park is one of the few green areas left in the sprawling metropolis of Istanbul and many protesters were still seething over the forceful operations by riot police that at times devolved into violent clashes with stone and firebomb-throwing youths that have left five people dead.