Turkey protests: Ruling AK party may hold vote on park

Police used tear gas to break up overnight protests in the capital Ankara

The deputy chairman of Turkey's ruling AK party says it is open to the idea of a referendum on controversial plans to redevelop Istanbul's Gezi Park.

Huseyin Celik hoped the "gesture of goodwill" would clear the area, but said those who remained would "face the police".

Police treatment of people campaigning against the redevelopment triggered broader demonstrations from 31 May.

Overnight, police in the capital Ankara fired tear gas to disperse protesters.

Senior European diplomats have expressed deep concern over Turkey's response to the protests. There is still no obvious way out of the impasse that has seen unrest in cities across the country for the past two weeks.

Demonstrators accuse Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of trying to impose Islamic values on a secular state.

'End the protests'

There was an uneasy calm in Gezi Park on Thursday morning, with a very heavy police presence and water cannon deployed around Taksim Square - which the park adjoins.

Quentin Sommerville reports from Gezi Park: "The mood here in the park still remains defiant"

Mr Celik's comments represent the first time that the AK party has openly discussed letting voters decide what happens to the park, where demonstrators have remained throughout the protests, says the BBC's James Reynolds in Istanbul.

"We might put it to a referendum... In democracies only the will of the people counts," said Mr Celik.

"We think that after this gesture of goodwill, people will decide to go home."

But he warned: "Those... who seek to provoke and remain in the park will face the police."

There was a mixed reaction among protesters on Twitter, with some welcoming the proposal and others mistrustful of the authorities.

Turkish media reported on Wednesday that Mr Erdogan had told the interior minister to end the protests in Gezi Park within 24 hours.

More than 20 opposition MPs have gone to the park to try to prevent any police intervention.

'Freedom of speech'

Police stood along the edges of Taksim Square on Wednesday evening as hundreds of protesters gathered - although in much smaller numbers than on Tuesday, when there were a series of violent clashes.

Lawyers marched on Taksim Square

In both Ankara and Istanbul, on Wednesday thousands of lawyers left court in their black robes to march through the streets, protesting against the treatment of their colleagues during demonstrations.

Dozens of lawyers were briefly held in Istanbul on Tuesday as they voiced their opposition to police action to clear the square.

"Our friends who had been detained in Istanbul were taken under custody just because they were reading a press release," said one of the lawyers in Ankara, Mehmet Toker. "We are here to defend freedom of speech."

Late in the afternoon, Mr Erdogan met a group of 11 people - including artists, architects and a social media specialist - to discuss the situation in Gezi Park.

Kutlug Ataman, a film-maker who attended the meeting, told CNN that Mr Erdogan had said he would propose a referendum on the issue to the AK party's decision-making committee.

Those in the park and Taksim Solidarity, an umbrella group seen as most representative of the protesters, said the group that had met Mr Erdogan did not speak for them.

"As police violence continues mercilessly... these meetings will in no way lead to a solution," said a statement from Taksim Solidarity.

Protests in Taksim Square since 1 June
1 June 1 June: Taksim Square becomes focus for protests over the development of Gezi Park after clashes with police.
3 June 3 June: Protesters establish camps in Taksim Square with makeshift facilities, from libraries to food centres.
9 June 9 June: The protests continue for a 10th day, with thousands gathering in central Istanbul and other cities.
11 June 11 June: Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan warns he will not show any more tolerance.
11 June 11 June: Protesters clash with police, who use water cannon, tear gas and rubber bullets to clear the area.
12 june 12 June: Morning sees Taksim Square empty of protesters. Some regrouped near Gezi Park and others gathered in the square again on Wednesday evening.

Mr Erdogan had earlier said protests would no longer be tolerated, dismissing protesters as "looters".

Turkish President Abdullah Gul, who has taken a more conciliatory line than Mr Erdogan, said authorities should listen to protesters' grievances.

"If people have objections, then to engage in a dialogue with these people, to hear out what they say is no doubt our duty," he told reporters.

European Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton said the unrest represented a "key moment" for Turkey, and a "chance for it to renew its commitment to European values".

The Turkish Human Rights Foundation said more than 620 people were injured in Tuesday's police crackdown.

Since the protests began, four people have been killed, including one policeman, and some 5,000 protesters as well as hundreds of police officers are said to have been injured.

Italian Foreign Minister Emma Bonino said the unrest was the "first serious test for the endurance of democracy in Turkey and its accession to Europe", while German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle expressed his concern in a statement.

"We expect Prime Minister Erdogan to de-escalate the situation, in the spirit of European values, and to seek a constructive exchange and peaceful dialogue," he said.

Map of protest locations in Turkey and Istanbul

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