All Istanbul Will Vote on Park Plans, Turkish Government Says

The whole of Istanbul will vote on a project to redevelop Gezi Park in the city center that sparked the protest movement of recent weeks, government spokesman Huseyin Celik said today.

The plebiscite will cover an area with a population of about 14 million people in 39 districts and towns, from the Black Sea coastal town of Sile to the town of Silivri more than 70 kilometers west of Istanbul, according to Celik’s announcement in Ankara today. The government had previously said the vote may be held across Istanbul or in the Beyoglu district that includes Gezi Park and the adjoining Taksim Square.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s party and its predecessors have won all local elections in Istanbul since 1994, and took 48 percent of the vote there in 2011 general elections. The government says it will wait for a local court ruling on the legality of its plans, which include a replica of an Ottoman barracks at Gezi Park, before holding a vote.

The demonstrations over Gezi that erupted on May 31 have turned into the most serious unrest during Erdogan’s decade in power. They broadened to target what the protesters say is the government’s increasingly authoritarian approach and attempts to impose Islamic ways on the country after three election wins. At least four people have died in clashes between demonstrators and police, and thousands have been injured.

Protesters Charged

Prosecutors asked a court to press criminal charges against 28 people in connection with violence during the unrest, the Anatolia news agency reported. The suspects included members of soccer team Besiktas’s fan club, known as Carsi. Some members of Carsi were spotted in clashes with police in Taksim Square and near Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s office in Besiktas district, TRT television said.

Turkish markets have been hit by the unrest. Stocks rallied today, with the benchmark index adding 1.4 percent at the end of the first session in Istanbul, to pare its decline this month to 8.5 percent. Yields on two-year debt were unchanged at 6.81 percent.

The Turkish union of engineers and architects, which has been at the forefront of opposition to the Taksim Square plans, said almost 400 have been detained, including three of its members who were later released though two face charges. It called on the government to halt the “anti-democratic” arrests and release those detained while pressing charges against security forces who used violence against protesters.

‘Standing Man’

As heavy police deployment in city centers discouraged crowds, many protesters have stood still in the squares and streets, inspired by performance artist Erdem Gunduz’s eight-hour “standing man” vigil in Taksim on the night of June 17. Members of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democracy Party held a similar five-minute protest during a parliamentary session yesterday.

Celik said today that total damage from the protests reached 140 million liras ($74 million). The government has accused opposition and extremist groups, financial speculators and unidentified foreign powers of fueling the unrest, which Erdogan yesterday called a “conspiracy.” He has repeatedly accused protesters and opposition lawmakers of fueling protests by disseminating false information on social media.

Transportation Minister Binali Yildirim told reporters today that there will be no limitations on the use of social media, while confirming that work is under way to combat cyber-crime. Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said there should be measures to stop the spreading of false rumors on social media that lead to casualties.

Arinc said the “standing man” protests are “civilized,” while warning against the possible health hazards of standing for too long.

“We should encourage such protests within the law,” Arinc said. “However, I think they should stand for five minutes and then go to their work or school in the sixth minute. Eight hours is too long.”

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