Europe

Erdogan in new Gezi Park protest warning

  • 15 June 2013
  • From the section Europe
People have lunch under the tree at Taksim Square
Protesters have been in Gezi Park since the start of the demonstrations

Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan has warned protesters occupying Istanbul's Gezi Park to evacuate it before a rally of his ruling AK party on Sunday.

"If Taksim Square is not evacuated, this country's security forces will know how to evacuate it," he said.

A controversial redevelopment plan for the park has sparked two weeks of anti-government unrest.

After Mr Erdogan's speech, police fired tear gas and water cannon, and advanced into Gezi Park.

The protesters have vowed to stay there, despite a promise by the PM to halt the plan until a court ruling on the issue.

Mr Erdogan made his remarks in a speech at an AK party rally in a suburb of the capital Ankara.

"Staying there [in Gezi Park] makes no sense anymore as the matter is now in the hands of the courts," he told tens of thousands of cheering supporters.

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 and replica 18th-Century military barracks. The government has appealed against the ruling.

During the rally, Mr Erdogan also repeated a pledge to hold a referendum in Istanbul on the issue.

"If there are still brothers there, please leave because this park belongs to the population of Istanbul. It is not an area to be occupied by illegal organisations," he said.

"Nobody can intimidate us. We take no orders or instruction from anyone but God," he added, according to AFP.

He also dismissed the wave of anti-government protests as part of an organised plot against him.

Mr Erdogan has issued deadlines before - but this was a confident performance from a man who is a natural orator, the BBC's Chris Morris reports from Istanbul.

The crowd loved it, and Mr Erdogan said that as long as he had their support, no lobby or interest group could stop them, our correspondent adds.

Protesters' defiance

After the speech, riot police fired tear gas and water cannon at demonstrators in Taksim Square and Gezi Park.

Protesters in the park have remained defiant despite Mr Erdogan's promise to halt the redevelopment plan.

The offer was presented as a major concession. But after all-night discussions in Gezi Park, the protesters said their movement was more than just a conservation protest and vowed to stay on.

"We shall remain in the park until all of our democratic rights are recognised,'' Tayfun Kahraman, a member of Taksim Solidarity - the group seen as most representative of the protesters - told the Associated Press, insisting that four key demands laid out by protesters in the talks had not been met.

Apart from halting the Gezi Park redevelopment project, Taksim Solidarity has also formulated the following demands:

  • Anyone responsible for excessive police force must resign or be dismissed
  • Police use of tear gas and other non-lethal weapons must be banned
  • Activists detained in the protests should be released and investigations against them dropped
  • Bans on meetings and demonstrations in some public spaces must be lifted

On Friday night, riot police again used tear gas and water cannon to disperse demonstrators in the capital Ankara. About 30 protesters were reported to have been arrested.

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

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

The police crackdown on protesters in Istanbul, Ankara, and other towns and cities has drawn international concern, especially from Europe.