Turkey government freezes Gezi Park project

The BBC's Chris Morris has been to Kayseri in central Turkey to meet some of the prime minister's supporters

Turkey's government has agreed to suspend redevelopment plans for a park in Istanbul until a court rules on the issue.

After late-night talks with protesters, a government spokesman said there would be no attempt to start the project until a court decided on its legality.

The plan to rebuild an old barracks on Gezi Park has sparked Turkey's biggest anti-government protests in decades.

If the court backed the government, the project would be put to a popular vote.

'Positive outcome'

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has urged demonstrators to leave the park after two weeks of often violent protest.

"You have stayed here as long as you could and have relayed your message. If your message is about Gezi Park, it has been received and evaluated," Mr Erdogan said on Friday.

"Please now leave Gezi Park and go to your homes."

His tone appeared softer than that on Thursday, when he issued a "final warning" to the protesters.

Start Quote

We will ask everyone in Istanbul what they think - anyone who doesn't want a vote can't speak of democracy”

End Quote Huseyin Celik Government spokesman

But it also comes after late-night talks with delegates from the Taksim Solidarity group, which a spokesman for the group, Tayfun Kahraman, described as "a positive outcome".

He said the protesters would evaluate the outcome of the meeting and would present their decision on Friday evening.

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

'Authoritarian'

The contested park is a rare patch of green in Turkey's biggest city.

Last month, an Istanbul court issued an initial injunction against the plan to cut down trees in the park to make way for a shopping centre replica 18th-Century military barracks. The government has appealed against the ruling.

The project was 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 of trying to impose conservative Islamic values on a secular state.

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.

Government spokesman Huseyin Celik, from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), said that if the court ruled that the park could be developed, a vote would be held "to hear the people's opinions about the situation".

He said the park "should not be a place where people live for 24 hours" and that "the environmentalists should leave".

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

"We will ask everyone in Istanbul what they think.

"Anyone who doesn't want a vote can't speak of democracy."

Patience 'at an end'

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

Speaking at a meeting of the AKP in Ankara 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."

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

Meanwhile, the BBC has suspended its partnership with Turkish broadcaster NTV following its decision not to transmit the BBC programme Dunya Gundemi (World Agenda).

BBC World Service Director Peter Horrocks said: "Any interference in BBC broadcasting is totally unacceptable, and at a time of considerable international concern about the situation in Turkey the BBC's impartial service to audiences is vital."

The dropping of the programme came after NTV had apologised to its staff and viewers after it and several other Turkish broadcasters were heavily criticised for not covering the protests in their early days.

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