Court blocks Taksim Square project
Decision a blow for Turkish prime minister Tayyip Erdogan
A Turkish court has cancelled the Istanbul building project backed by prime minister Tayyip Erdogan that triggered nationwide anti-government demonstrations last month, a copy of the court decision showed.
Authorities may appeal the cancellation of plans for a replica Ottoman-era barracks on Istanbul’s Taksim Square. But the ruling marked a victory for a coalition of political forces and a blow for Mr Erdogan, who stood fast against protests and riots that he said were stoked by terrorists and looters.
Can Atalay, a lawyer for the Chamber of Architects, which brought the lawsuit, said the administrative court ruled in early June at the height of the unrest that the plan violated preservation rules and unacceptably changed the square’s identity. It was not clear why it had only now been released.
“This decision applies to all of the work at Taksim Square . . . The public-works project that was the basis for the work has been cancelled,” Mr Atalay told Reuters.
Mr Erdogan has said he would wait for the judiciary to rule, and any appeals process, before proceeding with Taksim, one of several large projects planned for Istanbul, including a huge airport, an enormous mosque and a canal to ease Bosphorus traffic.
June’s protests and riots began when police used water cannon and tear gas against a relatively small protest over the plans to redevelop Taksim and the adjacent Gezi Park. Heavy-handed police action stirred unprecedented actions against Mr Erdogan, accusing him of an increasingly authoritarian style.
Four people were killed and some 7,500 wounded in the police crackdown, according to the Turkish Medical Association. It largely ended when police cleared a protest camp on the square on June 15th.
The protests were unprecedented in Mr Erdogan’s rule, which began in 2002 with the election of his AK Party. He has pressed significant economic reforms and curtailed the power of a military that had toppled four governments in four decades.
Opponents say he has become authoritarian after three election victories and during the June unrest turned increasingly to the Islamist core of his AK Party faithful.
If the country’s top administrative court rules in favour of the development, Mr Erdogan has still pledged to hold a referendum in Istanbul on the government’s plan.
A press adviser at city hall, which drafted the development plan, did not return phone calls seeking comment. Court officials also could not be reached.
“I expect the other side will definitely appeal this decision but in the meantime, they must abide by it and that means removing police from Taksim and allowing citizens to return to Gezi Park,” Mr Atalay said.
Gezi has been shut to the public since June 15th, when police stormed the park.
The square carries enormous symbolic value. It was the site of a 1977 May Day massacre that killed up to 40 leftists. For secular Turks, its development in the early days of the republic represent the nation’s founding principles, while devout Muslims have long sought to build a mosque there. – (Reuters)