Turkey braced for protests despite deal

2013-06-14 16:12
Protesters hold hands to isolate an area for others to attend prayers in Taksim square. (Vadim Ghirda, AP)

Protesters hold hands to isolate an area for others to attend prayers in Taksim square. (Vadim Ghirda, AP)

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Istanbul - A new gathering to honour the injured and dead in two weeks of anti-government protests in Turkey took place in Istanbul on Friday, hours after protesters had reached a deal with the government to de-escalate violence threatening to engulf the country.

One of the key points of the deal is an agreement by the Turkish government to comply with a court decision that suspended the controversial development of Gezi Park in Istanbul, newspapers quoted a spokesperson as saying.

Leaders of the protest movement said they were cautiously positive about the deal - which also promises an investigation into allegations of police brutality - but said they would let fellow demonstrators decide for themselves whether they wanted to regroup in central Istanbul for the commemoration.

Three protesters and one policeman have died during the demonstrations so far.

The heated stand-off had led to international concerns that Turkey - a Nato ally, aspiring EU member and backer of recent Middle East democracy movements - was stamping out public criticism in its own territory.

Government plans to construct a replica of an Ottoman-era barracks that would house residences and shops had prompted initial protests by environmentalists, who wanted to protect one of the city's last green areas. Major building projects have been a hallmark of Erdogan's tenure.

Referendum


When those were put down by police with tear gas and water cannon in late May, they spiralled into widespread anti-government protests, with demonstrators accusing the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of authoritarianism and trying to foist conservative values on the country.

Following a late night meeting between Erdogan and protesters, Huseyin Celik, a spokesperson for the ruling Justice and Development Party, said the government would abide by a court decision - currently facing appeal -blocking the park project.

"Turkey is a state of law. It is impossible for the executive branch to perform an unlawful act. There is a court decision, the government must conform to it," he said, as quoted by the daily newspaper Hurriyet.

If the project were approved, he added, the government would plan a referendum.

Celik also promised an investigation into allegations of disproportionate police force during efforts to control the protests.

"If it is determined [that an officer] has committed a crime, he will be punished as foreseen by the law," Celik said, urging the protesters to accept the deal and call off their demonstrations.

Medical personnel targeted

"I address the young people that gathered for the environment: Go back into your warm beds at home."

The announcement was applauded internationally.

"We welcome that, over the last 24 hours, we have actually seen positive and constructive signs coming from Turkey," read a statement from Peter Stano, spokesperson for EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule, noting the halt to construction plans and "the launch of the investigation into the cases of excessive use of force against people who were peacefully expressing their opinions".

If the deal holds, it would be a reversal for Erdogan, who had accused the court earlier of lacking neutrality. The premier had also insisted that the Gezi Park project would continue no matter what and had threatened demonstrators with consequences if they did not clear Taksim Park, where Gezi lies.

Also on Friday, a report in the Lancet medical journal said medical students and personnel had set up first aid stations amid the protesters, treating people injured after being struck by gas capsules fired at close range. The report wrote of treating one person who had lost an eye.

The article noted that police eventually turned on the medical volunteers.

"One of our medical student volunteers is currently in intensive care after being beaten by the police," read the report. "The police have also thrown tear gas inside the first aid stations and arrested the doctors and volunteers on the service."

- SAPA

Read more on:    nato  |  recep tayyip erdogan  |  turkey  |  turkey protests
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