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Protesters Skeptical as Turkish PM Flips from Threats to Concessions

In a move to quell ballooning protests, Erdogan pledges Gezi Park referendum

Sarah Lazare, staff writer

(Photo: Joshua Kahn Russell/Monument at Taksim Square)

Turkey's embattled PM Recep Tayyip Erdoganis told protesters last night that he will halt plans to redevelop Gezi Park until Turkish courts rule on an appeal and launch a public referendum if the rule falls in the government's favor.

The move comes a day after European parliament voted to condemn the PM's violent crackdown on Turkey's ballooning protests that has left five dead and over 5,000 injured.

Erdogan's Wednesday threats to shut down the protests in 24 hours were followed by Thursday late-night private meetings with members of the Taksim Solidarity, one organization behind the Taksim Square protests that has gained heightened visibility.

Just outside of the Thursday meetings, police fought back protesters. PressTV reports:

Witnesses said police fired tear gas at some 200 protesters who had gathered in Ankara city centre, near the offices of the prime minister, while the meeting was underway. Five demonstrators were also arrested.

The PM's gesture towards concession appeared an attempt to quiet Turkey's mass mobilizations, now well into their third week, as the U.S.-backed head of government faces a growing political crisis.

Taksim Solidarity members who attended the private meeting declared that the question of whether to accept the PM's latest move ultimately rests with protesters, many of whom are not affiliated with Taksim Solidarity. CBS reports:

Tayfun Kahraman, one of the Taksim Solidarity members who attended the meeting, said he believed Erdogan had offered "positive words," and that fellow activists would consider them in a "positive manner." But he said those in Gezi Park would "make their own assessments."

The Washington Post reports that it is not a given that protesters will be satisfied by Erdogan's latest move.

Many protesters have been skeptical of plans for a referendum, saying that they do not believe elections can be fair when Erdogan holds tight sway over the media. Others mistrust the judiciary, saying that Erdogan controls them too.

The protests began in late May after activists occupying Gezi Park to protect it from redevelopment were violently evicted by police, sparking mass outrage. Mobilizations have since spread to dozens of cities and broadened to incorporate grievances against what many consider to be the increasingly authoritarian rule of the ruling AKP party.

A poll of Gezi Park protesters released this week finds that approximately half protest due to general dissatisfaction with the government.


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