Referendum may be possible to decide Gezi Park future, says ruling party
Comments followed meeting of Turkey’s Erdogan with select group of protesters
Anti-government protesters read books at Kizilay Square in Ankara yesterday. They gathered for the reading in an attempt to circumvent police bans against mass gatherings and protests in the capital. Photographj: Dado Ruvic/Reuters
Representatives of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) said yesterday a referendum may be possible to decide the future status of Gezi Park following a meeting between Turkey’s embattled leader prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and select elements from the protest movement.
Last night it was unclear when a referendum would take place or if it would be accepted by the thousands of protesters gathered at the epicentre of the two-week-old protest movement at Taksim Square.
The Taksim Solidarity Platform, a coalition of groups representing about 80 organisations opposing the building of a military barracks museum and shopping centre on the site of Gezi Park, said it was not notified of any meeting with the government, and that it has had no contact with authorities since meeting deputy prime minister Bulent Arinc on June 5th.
Thousands of Turks have taken to the streets of major cities in recent weeks angry with what they believe is the AKP’s increasing encroachment into public life. A host of conservative restrictions have been passed by the Turkish parliament over the past number of weeks and months.
However, since being elected prime minister in 2003 Mr Erdogan has overseen a turnaround of the Turkish economy and is popular among the country’s conservative elements.
The AKP plans to hold counter rallies in Istanbul and the capital Ankara on Saturday and Sunday, which will likely contribute to growing tensions. Mr Erdogan has repeatedly said radical elements have infiltrated the protest movement and has directed most of his public comments towards rioters.
Speaking in the Black Sea coastal town of Rize yesterday, President Abdullah Gul, who has struck a more moderate tone during the unrest, said the government was willing to engage in dialogue with demonstrators. But he added: “Those who employ violence are something different and we have to distinguish them.”
Ekrem Eddy Guzeldere, a Turkish political analyst based in Istanbul said he would be surprised if any resolution could be reached so soon after the police assault on protesters on Tuesday night, adding that the representatives that met Mr Erdogan yesterday were chosen by the office of the prime minister.
“There are also directors and musicians and an AKP member who criticised the government [at the talks], but they are not known to have worked on Taksim Square before or were active in groups organising the protest,” he said.
“The major message that the prime minister wants to transport is that meetings take place – with whom and about what is secondary.”
Earlier this week the Taksim Solidarity Platform softened its initial demands calling for the resignation of police officers responsible for violence and for tear gas to be banned, and instead demanded that Gezi Park be left as it is.
More than 70 people were detained following fierce clashes at Taksim Square in recent days. The Turkish Medical Association said on Tuesday that more than 5,000 people were injured in the nationwide demonstrations.