Turkey protests: Erdogan meets Gezi Park activists

The Turkish government says will hold a public vote on Gezi Park

Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan has held talks with members of a key protest group, hours after issuing a "final warning" to demonstrators.

Tayfun Kahraman from the umbrella group Taksim Solidarity described the outcome as "positive".

A meeting would be called in Istanbul's Taksim Square on Friday "to allow citizens to make up their own mind".

Taksim Solidarity is opposed to the redevelopment of Gezi Park, the issue that sparked the unrest.

Clashes between police and protesters in the park and nearby Taksim Square have continued for nearly two weeks.

Activists have said they will not leave until the government abandons plans to redevelop the park.

'No place to live'

Start Quote

"We will stay in Gezi Park with all our demands and sleeping bags”

End Quote Taksim Solidarity

The meeting in the capital, Ankara, was the first time Mr Erdogan had met protest organisers directly.

It was earlier described as a "last-ditch" attempt to find a solution after two weeks of anti-government protests.

Speaking after Thursday night's meeting, government spokesman Huseyin Celik said a public vote would be held on the future of Gezi Park.

"The park should not be a place where people live for 24 hours," he said.

"The environmentalists should leave. We will ask everyone in Istanbul what they think. Anyone who does not want a vote cannot speak of democracy."

The spokesman added that allegations of "excessive use of force" by the police would be investigated.

Meanwhile Mr Kahraman said no action would be taken by the government regarding Gezi Park "until all lines of justice are exhausted".

"This is positive and should be received positively," he said.

His Taksim Solidarity group is seen as the most representative body of the demonstrators, many of whom are still encamped in Gezi Park.

"We will stay in Gezi Park with all our demands and sleeping bags," the group said in an earlier statement.

"We did not suffer through the attacks... so that a referendum could take place."

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.

Gezi Park is a rare patch of green in Turkey's biggest city, and has been the focus of public anger.

Plans to redevelop it into a shopping centre were the initial spark for the protests, which then broadened into anti-government demonstrations in several cities.

Protesters have accused Mr Erdogan's government of becoming increasingly authoritarian and trying to impose conservative Islamic values on a secular state.

Start Quote

I say to the mothers and fathers, please take your children in hand and bring them out”

End Quote Recep Tayyip Erdogan Turkish Prime Minister
Patience 'at an end'

Mr Erdogan has taken a tough line on the protests, branding the demonstrators as "extremists" and "looters". He has said the unrest was being encouraged by foreign forces to undermine Turkey and its economy.

Speaking at a meeting of his ruling AK Party (AKP) in Ankara earlier on Thursday, Mr Erdogan said: "Our patience is at an end. I am making my warning for the last time."

"I say to the mothers and fathers, please take your children in hand and bring them out," he added, going on to say that the park belonged not "to occupying forces but to the people."

Some of those camped in the park have been waiting for news from city governor Huseyin Avni Mutlu, who has been assuring them for several days that police will not intervene, while urging them to leave so that "police can tackle marginal groups".

Several riot vehicles are still on standby in Taksim - a sign that police have no intention of abandoning the square they stormed on Tuesday - though crowds gathered there once more on Thursday evening.

The police crackdown on protesters has drawn international concern, especially from Europe.

On Thursday, the European Parliament passed a non-binding resolution that "deplores the reactions of the Turkish Government and of Prime Minister Erdogan, whose unwillingness to take steps towards reconciliation, to apologise or to understand the reactions of a segment of the Turkish population have only contributed to further polarisation".

Mr Erdogan angrily dismissed the resolution shortly before it was passed.

Also on Thursday, White House spokesman Jay Carney said the US expected Turkish authorities to uphold the "fundamental freedoms" of expression and assembly.

Five people have died and thousands have been injured since the protests began in Gezi Park on 31 May, spreading to Taksim Square a day later.

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