Turkish protesters yesterday said they would not leave an Istanbul park despite a call from Turkish President Abdullah Gul for them to withdraw and a pledge from Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to hold a vote on plans to redevelop the site.
Hundreds of protesters, camped out for more than two weeks in tents in Gezi Park adjoining Istanbul’s central Taksim Square, said they would keep up their campaign after Ankara failed to meet demands including the release of detained demonstrators.
A police crackdown on peaceful campaigners in the park two weeks ago provoked an unprecedented wave of protest against Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party — an association of centrists and conservative religious elements — drawing in secularists, nationalists, professionals, trade unionists and students.
The unrest, in which police fired tear gas and water cannons at stone-throwing protesters night after night in cities including Istanbul and Ankara, left four people dead and about 5,000 injured, according to the Turkish Medical Association.
“The government has ignored clear and rightful demands since the beginning of the resistance. They tried to divide, provoke and damage our legitimacy,” the Taksim Solidarity platform, an umbrella group for the protesters, said in a statement.
“We will continue our resistance in the face of any injustice and unfairness taking place in our country,” the group said. “This is only the beginning.”
The decision looked set to inflame tensions in a crisis that has posed the biggest challenge yet to the decade-long rule of Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted government.
In Ankara, riot police again fired tear gas and water cannon to disperse demonstrators overnight. About 30 protesters were arrested.
The group, whose representatives met Erdogan at his official residence in Ankara on Thursday night, said it had seen no serious signs of progress in holding those responsible for the police crackdown to account, nor in investigating the four deaths, one of them a policeman, during the unrest.
Erdogan told protesters at Thursday’s talks that he would put plans to build a replica Ottoman-era barracks in Gezi Park on hold until a court rules on them, a more moderate stance after two weeks of defiance in which he when he called the protesters as “riff-raff” and said the plans would go ahead regardless.
“Young people, you have remained there long enough and delivered your message.... Why are you staying?” Erdogan said afterward in a speech broadcast on live television. “Don’t force us to use other methods.”
“The fact that negotiation and dialogue channels are open is a sign of democratic maturity,” Gul, who has struck a more conciliatory tone than Erdogan throughout the protests, said on his Twitter account yesterday.
“I believe this process will have good results. From now on everybody should return home,” he added.
Buoyed by the dialogue with Erdogan, the group said the protesters, many of whom are young and middle-class, were “stronger” than ever.
“The party in power has lost its legitimacy before the eyes of local and international media,” it said.
What began as a campaign by environmentalists to save what they say is one of central Istanbul’s few green spaces spiraled into the most serious show of defiance against Erdogan and his party yet in his decade in power.
The party planned to hold rallies in Ankara later yesterday and in Istanbul today. Erdogan on Friday said they mark the start of campaigning for local elections next year and are not to do with the Gezi Park protest, but they are widely seen as a show of strength in the face of the demonstrations.