Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivered his most conciliatory speech since anti-government demonstrations began two weeks ago, saying plans to develop an Istanbul park are on hold and the message from protesters has been received.
Erdogan said there’ll be no redevelopment of Gezi Park in Taksim Square, where protesters have been gathered for more than two weeks, until a court rules on the issue, and after that only if the plan is approved in a public vote. Speaking at a meeting with officials from his party in Ankara, the premier urged the demonstrators to leave today, saying that would enable police to tackle “illegal groups” that have become involved.
The unrest has presented Erdogan with one of his biggest challenges since he took office more than 10 years ago, as protesters denounce what they say is the pro-Islamist leader’s autocratic style. The spectacle of tens of thousands marching in Istanbul and the capital Ankara, and police using tear gas, water cannons and truncheons against them, has battered Turkish stocks and bonds.
Markets revived today, extending a rally since June 11 when police moved back into Taksim and clashed with protesters. The benchmark stock index added 4.4 percent at 5 p.m. in Istanbul, paring its loss this month to 7.3 percent. Yields on two-year lira bonds dropped 53 basis points to 6.21 percent, and the lira rallied 0.5 percent against the dollar.
‘Room for Dialogue’
Erdogan met late yesterday for four hours with a group including two representatives of Taksim Solidarity, which has spoken on behalf of the protesters who have filled Istanbul’s central square for the past two weeks, the official Anatolia News Agency said. It was Erdogan’s first contact with the Solidarity group since the protests escalated on May 31 and spread to other cities.
In Washington today, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay said “police made some mistakes” in their reaction to peaceful protesters, which are being investigated.
Atalay, speaking through a translator at a conference sponsored by Middle East Institute, contrasted what he called “peaceful, innocent” protesters with “environmental sensitivities,” with “radicals” and “extreme nationalists” who he said hijacked the protests in an effort to discredit Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, or AKP.
Atalay said Erdogan’s talks with the protesters “signal the end of those protests,” adding that the government “will be studying the lessons very carefully.”
The deputy prime minister also criticized international news coverage comparing the protests with the Arab Spring uprisings, saying that attitude reflected “a campaign against all the achievements of the past decade.”
The government says it wants to reconstruct an Ottoman-era barracks near Gezi Park, as well as a new opera house in Taksim as part of plans to make the square pedestrian-friendly. An Istanbul court order on June 1 stopped construction of a sidewalk around the park.
The government’s commitments so far “do not include the protesters’ main demand of an official cancellation of plans regarding the future of Gezi Park,” Ibrahim Aksoy, an economist at Seker Invest in Istanbul, said in an e-mailed note earlier today after Cabinet spokesman Huseyin Celik signaled Erdogan’s plans. “Yet we find the recent meeting positive as it shows that there is still room for dialogue.”
Taksim Solidarity will announce its decision about the protest at a press conference tomorrow morning, CNN Turk said.
At least four people have died in clashes since May 31. The Turkish Medical Association says almost 7,500 have sought medical treatment.
The demonstrators say Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted government has been emboldened by three successive electoral victories to ignore the views of more secular-oriented Turks who didn’t vote for them. They cite measures including curbs on alcohol and an increase in religious teaching at schools.
Celik said investigations have started into the use of excessive force against protesters, and offenders will be punished according to the law.
Seventy people were taken to court in Istanbul today after they were detained for throwing Molotov cocktails and stones at police, the official Anatolia news agency said.
Erdogan said his Justice and Development Party will go ahead with rallies planned this weekend in Ankara and Istanbul, after opposition parties had called for their cancellation to avoid fueling tensions. He said they’ll mark the start of campaigning for the March local elections.
The premier attacked the opposition for failing to speak out against the damage wreaked by protesters, and the European Union for criticizing the police response. He said police in European countries and the U.S. have carried out more violent crackdowns.