Turkey: Gezi protesters say park must stay, demonstration restrictions should end

6th Jun 2013

[Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç met on Wednesday with representatives of the Taksim Platform at the Prime Ministry building in Ankara. (Photo: Cihan, Emrullah Bayrak)]
Istanbul, (Today’s Zaman): Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç met with representatives of the Taksim Platform, a solidarity group formed to oppose the planned demolition of Gezi Park in Taksim, on Wednesday, during which the group listed its demands, including a decision to end the demolition of the park and an end to all bans against unauthorized protesting.

The Taksim incidents started last Wednesday when a group of environmentalists from the Taksim Platform gathered in Gezi Park to protest against the government’s plans to build a replica of Topçu Barracks over the park as part of a Taksim urban renewal project. Hundreds joined the group after the police used pepper spray and tear gas to disperse them.

On Wednesday, Arınç met with members from the platform at the Prime Ministry building in Ankara to talk about the protests.

The group made a press statement after the meeting, saying they were going to continue their “struggle” until their demands are met by the government through tangible steps.

In a press briefing after talks with Arınç on Wednesday, the organizers said they are demanding the authorities take immediate measures to address their demands and said the fate of the protests will largely depend on the government’s response to the demonstrations.

Gathered before reporters in Ankara, several group members described themselves as “envoys” of the platform and said they had presented a letter outlining their demands to the “highest authority” in the Prime Ministry. Arınç is currently acting prime minister as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is on a North African tour.

The organizers demanded that the government consider the environmental impact of its projects and called on the relevant authorities to revise their plans to build a third bridge over the Bosporus Strait, a canal and a third airport. They said that Taksim’s Gezi Park should remain untouched and the government should abandon plans to rebuild the historic Ottoman barracks. They also rejected plans to demolish the Atatürk Cultural Center.

They also asked the government to ban the use of pepper spray and tear gas and demanded the dismissal of all officials involved in the violence. The organizers criticized the language and rhetoric Erdoğan has used and blamed him for insulting the public. Erdoğan blamed “extremist groups” for leading the protests and called the protesters “looters.” The organizers said the government should avoid using language that indicates it is ignoring the protesters.

The organizers said those who started the protests could end them at any time, referring to themselves; however, they said, their demands need to be addressed first. They said that at least 2,319 protesters have been injured in Ankara, İstanbul and İzmir to make a total of more than 4,000 injured in violent protests across Turkey.

Arınç’s meeting with the protesters came a day after the deputy prime minister made a speech aimed at preventing the escalation of the protests.

At a press conference on Tuesday, Arınç apologized to the peaceful protesters who were exposed to excessive force by the police. He made a distinction between the peaceful demonstrations held by environmentalists and the subsequent violent protests, adding that the ensuing fierce protests across the country have cost Turkey over TL 70 million.

Arınç also stated on Tuesday that the government will consult the public to a greater degree when drafting future legislation, including plans related to Taksim Square, and will heed public opinion.

The organizers of the protests said Arınç made similar conciliatory remarks but avoided commenting on what the deputy prime minister said in response to their demands. “The fate of the protests depends on the government’s next steps,” they added.

The Taksim Platform representatives also rejected a possible referendum on the Taksim plans, saying that the government should take into consideration local concerns when making plans.

Unions on strike

Meanwhile, a strike launched by the Confederation of Public Sector Trade Unions (KESK) in support of the protests was in place on Wednesday. The Confederation of Revolutionary Workers’ Unions (DİSK), the Turkish Doctors’ Union (TTB) and the Turkish Union of Engineers and Architects’ Chambers (TMMOB) joined the strike. The total number of the members of the four unions amounts to nearly 850,000. These unions and the Education and Science Workers’ Union (Eğitim-İş) were also at the square on Wednesday, supporting those continuing their Gezi Park watch.

On Tuesday, Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) deputy Sırrı Süreyya Önder, who has become a central figure in the protests after standing in front of a bulldozer at the park in the first few days, said the protests will leave a mark in Turkish political history, adding that the protests should now turn into a festival.

Speaking to the press after meeting with President Abdullah Gül, Önder said the police’s brutal response and use of excessive force turned a small sit-in protest into nationwide protests across the country.

According to Önder, the protests reflect a growing feeling of disenfranchisement in some segments of society as the government excludes people from the decision-making process in the run-up to some critical public projects.

He said the protests came as a response to the top-down, one-sided policymaking of the government, which remains indifferent to criticism of others.

Önder said he has noticed a change in the government’s approach regarding handling the protests, adding that a democratic procedure is now taking place.

On Wednesday, the BDP announced that it had filed a criminal complaint against İstanbul Governor Hüseyin Avni Mutlu and Police Chief Hüseyin Çapkın accusing them of ordering police to interfere in peaceful protests in absence of any reasonable doubt of a potential crime.

Protestors against coup

Meanwhile, a recent survey conducted by the private İstanbul Bilgi University found that more than 80 percent of the protesters who actively took part in the Taksim protests are against a military coup.

İstanbul Bilgi University conducted an online poll to measure the political views of demonstrators involved in the protests against a reconstruction project at Gezi Park in Taksim Square.

According to the results of the poll, only 5 percent of the protesters would back a military coup to topple the conservative Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government.

In sharp contrast, more than 80 percent of the interviewees openly expressed their objection to any kind of military intervention in politics, Turkish media reported late on Tuesday.




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